The US government and military continue to seek a negotiated settlement with the Afghan Taliban despite the group’s continuing support for al Qaeda and the increased leadership role the Haqqani Network plays in the Afghan insurgency.
The Department of Defense asserts in its biannual Enhancing Security and Stability in Afghanistan report, released earlier this week, that “reconciliation and a political settlement with the Taliban” is a key part of its strategy to end the conflict in Afghanistan.
“The U.S. and Afghan governments agree that the best way to ensure lasting peace and security in Afghanistan is reconciliation and a political settlement with the Taliban,” the report says in its very first section, titled US Strategy in Afghanistan.
The report then states that to achieve a political settlement, the Taliban must take the very steps the group has refused for 15 years: denounce al Qaeda and submit to Afghanistan’s constitution.
“Success of an Afghan-led peace process will require the Taliban and other armed opposition groups to end violence, break ties with international terrorist groups, and accept Afghanistan’s constitution, including its protections for the rights of women and under-represented groups.”
The Pentagon report continues to advocate for reconciliation with the Taliban despite the fact that al Qaeda’s emir, Ayman al Zawahiri, swore an oath of allegiance to the new leader of the Taliban, Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, after he was publicly named successor to Mullah Omar over the summer. Mansour accepted Zawahiri’s oath just days after it was given.
Shockingly, the Pentagon report made no mention of Zawahiri’s oath and Mansour’s acceptance. The report did note that the emir of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan swore allegiance to the Islamic State’s leader, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi.
The Pentagon also continues to press for negotiations despite the fact that Sirajuddin Haqqani, the operational commander of the Haqqani Network – a powerful Taliban subgroup that is closely tied to al Qaeda and backed by Pakistan’s military and intelligence establishment – was appointed as one of Mansour’s two deputies. Siraj is effectively the Taliban’s military commander. The US military does recognize that Siraj’s “elevation” in the Taliban leadership is problematic.
“The elevation of Haqqani Network leader Siraj Haqqani as Taliban leader Mullah Mansour’s deputy signals that the Haqqani Network will remain a critical and lethal component of the overall Taliban-led insurgency,” the report states.
“Of the groups involved in the Taliban-led insurgency, the Haqqani Network remains the greatest threat to U.S., coalition, and Afghan forces and continues to be the most critical enabler of al Qaeda,” the report continues. “Haqqani Network leader Siraj Haqqani’s elevation as Taliban leader Mullah Mansour’s deputy has further strengthened the Haqqani Network’s role in the Taliban-led insurgency. The Haqqani Network and affiliated groups share the goals of expelling U.S. and coalition forces, overthrowing the Afghan government, and re-establishing an Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.”
Siraj’s tight working relationship with al Qaeda has been confirmed by multiple sources. Files recovered in Osama bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound revealed the depth of the collusion. [See LWJ report, The Taliban’s new leadership is allied with al Qaeda.]
Since accepting Zawahiri’s oath of loyalty and appointing Siraj as a top deputy, the Taliban have not backed off from either party. In early September the Taliban released a video that highlighted Siraj’s importance to the group as well as Mansour’s accepting Zawahiri’s pledge. In early September, the Taliban also devoted significant space to al Qaeda leaders and pro-al Qaeda clerics eulogizing its former emir in that month’s edition of Al Sumud, the group’s official magazine.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal. Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD’s Long War Journal.