The Taliban have released a clever piece of disinformation today, which clearly is aimed at US policymakers as well as the American public as the Obama administration decides on a new path forward in Afghanistan. In this latest statement, the Taliban are claiming they have no aspirations to be involved in the global jihad. From the Voice of Jihad, the Taliban’s official propaganda arm online:
We announce to all the world, our aim is obtainment of independence and establishment of an Islamic system. We did not have any agenda to harm other countries including Europe nor we have such agenda today. Still if you want to turn the country of the proud and pious Afghans into a colony, then know that we have an unwavering determination and have braced for a prolonged war.
Today’s Taliban press release highlights al Qaeda’s media savvy. The statement likely will be cited by proponents of the theory that the Taliban is a local insurgency disassociated with al Qaeda, and that a US shift to a counterterrrorism strategy aimed at hunting al Qaeda leaders will not facilitate the return of al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Tom Joscelyn and I will publish a much more in depth analysis on this subject over at The Long War Journal. In the mean time, here are some statements by two al Qaeda leaders and a Haqqani Network leader who disagree with the concept that the Taliban and al Qaeda are not closely linked.
Abdullah Sa’id al Libi, the commander of the Lashkar al Zil, al Qaeda’s Shadow Army, said during an interview with As Sahab that al Qaeda and the Taliban are closely linked. Sa’id makes few distinctions between Taliban and al Qaeda operations in Afghanistan. He repeatedly calls Taliban leader Mullah Omar the “Emir al Mumineen,” or the Commander of the Faithful. This title has religious significance among jihadis; the Commander of the Faithful is designated the leader of their Islamist caliphate. Osama bin Laden has sworn allegiance to Omar. The close relationship between the Taliban, al Qaeda, and other jihadi groups is made plain by Sa’id in his description of the strength of the Taliban:
“[I]t possesses significant regional cards, chiefly the Taliban Pakistan and the Al-Qaeda Organization, and probably more important cards in Central Asia, Chinese Eastern Turkistan, and other regions in Iran.”
Sa’id is clear that Mullah Omar was unwilling to turn over bin Laden after the US demanded it in late 2001, and that there is no reason to break from al Qaeda now when the Taliban have the upper hand:
“US and western sources talk about their readiness to accept the Taliban in the Afghan future political structure should it leave the Al Qaeda. However, these sources close the eyes to the fact that Mullah Mohammad Omar has lost his throne [ruling] upon his refusal to hand over one person who is Osama bin Laden. Thus, will Mullah Mohammad Omar agree to a condition which he refused when he used to rule and when the United States was at the top of its might, and accept it now while he is on the threshold of a victory over his enemies?”
Then there is this from Mustafa Abu Yazid, al Qaeda’s commander in Afghanistan, whose eulogy for slain Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud outlines how the Pakistani Taliban sheltered al Qaeda after they fled the US offensive during the early days of Operation Enduring Freedom:
“Amir Baitullah (may God have mercy on him) was a generous, strong, courageous, and noble person when it came to making decisions, especially the decision to host, aid, and shelter his migrating mujahidin brothers. It was he and the sons of his tribe (the generous heroes) who did that. Despite all the attacks, destruction, and killings by the hands of the apostate Pakistani Army in the Wazir tribe in the Wana and Shikay areas, who were first to host their migrating and mujahidin brothers (may God reward them), he did not stop hosting, aiding, and sheltering his migrating brothers.”
And Haqqani Network military commander Mullah Sangeen Zadran has stated that there is no difference between the Taliban and al Qaeda:
“All praise is for Allah, Al-Qaeda and Taliban all are Muslims and we are united by the brotherhood of Islam. We do not see any difference between Taliban and Al- Qaeda, for we all belong to the religion of Islam. Sheikh Usama has pledged allegiance to Amir Al-Mumineen (Mulla Muhammad Umar) and has reassured his leadership again and again. There is no difference between us, for we are united by Islam and the Sharia governs us.”