Taliban commander admits thousands of foreign fighters are embedded within group

The image above is from a Taliban video released in Dec. 2016. The video, entitled “Bond of Nation with the Mujahideen,” is replete with imagery and speeches that promote the enduring Taliban-al Qaeda relationship. Al Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Nasir al Wuhayshi are shown side by side with top Taliban leaders. 

In a startling admission, a senior leader in the Afghan Taliban told NBC News that “thousands” of foreign fighters are currently embedded in the group in Afghanistan. The admission is astonishing as the Taliban has attempted to obscure its relationship with al Qaeda, even though it slips up every now and then. FDD’s Long War Journal has maintained for the last eight years that US military and intelligence estimates of between 50 to 100 al Qaeda in Afghanistan (later modified to 200) have been woefully low.

The Taliban leader, who has not been named, admitted this to NBC News as the group was conducting negotiations with the US in Qatar. From the report:

A senior Afghan Taliban commander who is also a member of the group’s leadership council told NBC News that there were around 2,000 to 3,000 non-Afghan fighters in their midst, mostly from China, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Chechnya, Tunisia, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Iraq.

“We are Muslims and according to our religion … we cannot deny shelter to someone if he or she comes to trouble,” said the commander, who recently attended three days of talks with Khalilzad in Qatar. “None of the foreign militants would be allowed to take up arms and use this soil against any country in the world.”

Thousands of Pakistanis are also thought to be fighting as members of the Taliban.

It is unclear why the Taliban leader felt the urge to admit that thousands of foreign fighters are fighting alongside his group (most these are without a doubt al Qaeda, note how the Taliban commander refers to them as “foreign militants”). Perhaps he is emboldened by the US government’s desperation to negotiate with the Taliban, and is unconcerned that his comments will make US officials reconsider the Taliban’s relationship with al Qaeda. 

Regardless of the reason, the admission further validates eight years of research by FDD’s Long War Journal, which has rejected the absurd notions that al Qaeda was defeated in Afghanistan and the Taliban has distanced itself the group.  Between 2010 and 2015, LWJ fought back against the US military and intelligence community’s unchanging assessment of 50 to 100 al Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan. Using the US military’s own press releases on operations against al Qaeda, and al Qaeda’s own statements of its operations in Afghanistan, it was clear that the terror group’s footprint was far larger than 50 to 100 operatives. The fact that this estimate remained the same for six straight years was also a tell that the intelligence on al Qaeda’s strength in Afghanistan was being gamed, likely for political reasons, primarily to justify the US withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The preposterous 50 to 100 estimate was completely discredited in Oct. 2015, when the US military raided two al Qaeda camps in Shorabak, Kandahar. More than 150 al Qaeda fighters were killed in an area that the US military and intelligence community claimed al Qaeda didn’t operate. After admitting the 50 to 100 estimate was incorrect, US military leaders laughingly increased the estimate of al Qaeda’s strength to about 200 fighters

Now, a Taliban leader is saying thousands of foreign fighters are operating alongside it. Will the US military and intelligence community up its estimate? It is doubtful, as the US government is hell-bent on withdrawing, and the fact that thousands of al Qaeda are fighting alongside the Taliban would make it difficult to sell negotiations with the group that hosted al Qaeda when the US was attacked on 9/11.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • Curly4 says:

    As if this admission is unexpected. It should have been abundantly clear that this is the case from all the inside attacks from friendly forces on US forces. Now comes the hard part in rooting out theses al Qaeda and Taliban and even ISIS forces out of the friendly forces.
    Or it could come down to just the US withdrawing from the area while admitting that they lost the war.

  • James says:

    I say it again. If it takes a thousand years for US to succeed in Afghanistan, well then so be it. If enough of US would adopt that kind of an attitude, I can guarantee you one thing, and that would be that the Taliban would be singing a totally different tune.

    I just wonder how many of those occupiers are in fact Russian Fed puKKKin rejects; probably a whole heck of a lot more than many people would like to think.

    So, where are we going to fight these thugs? Are we going to allow our soldiers to fight them over there (which is, by the way, what they signed up for), or are we going to have to fight them over here or only God would know where else?

    I disagreed with a lot of things Bush did. But I’ll tell you one thing he said where he was spot on. To paraphrase what he said, it is better that we fight them over there than have to fight them over here.

    I have absolutely no sympathy for losers. Like Gen. Douglas MacArthur said, “There is no substitute for victory”. To which I’d like to add, there will be no excuse for defeat. The graveyard of the empires needs to become the graveyard of AQ.

    Bill, I believe that the numbers this source is giving in the article are most likely grossly underestimated. He probably doesn’t have any idea how many there are.

    I say it again. Go after the opium trade, CIA. Just follow the opium trail.

  • Cock Paul says:

    The USA can not impose “human rights” by force, that was the big mistake of Bush jr. The war is lost, because the government of Afganistan is corrupt. No martial talk or jingoism wil help. Afganistans “democracy” is not worth a single Western life.

  • You forget one thing, we invaded their country and took out their government. For many there, and for many of the foreigners also fighting there, we simply replace the Soviets as a foreign military force that keeps in power a corrupt, one of the most corrupt in the world, for many illigimate government. To some great extent, we are fighting the local people into at least a second generation. And Pashtuns never give up. As one of their sayings go: if you take revenge in this generation, you are over-anxious. From their point of view, it could go on for the next 1000 years. Given whatever our goals are, will it be worth it??

  • There is no Afghan-Pakistan border relative to the local people. The tribal groups are the same on both sides of the line the Brits drew years ago to make a border, they have land on both sides, marry across the “border”, etc etc. They all see the common enemy, us.

  • James D Albright says:

    Afghanistan is just it was in Vietnam, which made it impossible for the US to end the war and do so quickly, and that was the fact that the US did not go after the Communists in the adjacent countries that allowed the Communists in North Vietnam to use their country to reinforce and resupply their troops fighting in South Vietnam. In the case of Afghanistan the US will have to bomb the Iranian bases that both al-Qaeda and the Taliban are using to resupply and train their soldiers. The same goes for Pakistan as well. You can’t defeat the enemy by allowing them to take refuge in Iran and Pakistan. Defeat their bases in these countries and the Taliban and al-Qaeda will easily be defeated.

  • Ray Hall says:

    They started this on 11 Sept 2001. Let’s not this happen again. I would say, “Let’s bomb them back to the stone age.” Funny thing is, they are already living stone age.

  • Arvind says:

    “We invaded their country”? You Americans give yourself too much credit but unfortunately for the wrong reasons. What government “we” removed? The Taliban, puppet regime installed by Pakistan and which provided sanctuary to Al Qaieda? Any idea the atrocities committed by that “government” against women and children? It was horrible, to say the least. That Afghan leaders are corrupt is a problem but a major problem is that the US has been fighting the wrong enemy. The root of the problem lies in Pakistan, not Afghanistan. Without Pakistan’s support Taliban/Al Qaieda and various other Islamist outfits that operate in Afghanistan and in India would not survive even a day! You guys make it sound like Pashtuns are invincible, tell me if that’s the case why they begged the US and others for help during the Soviet Afghan war?

  • Arvind says:

    Need to focus on Pakistan, not Taliban. Taliban as I have been saying is the fruit of a poisonous tree whose roots lie in Pakistan.


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