In an effort to keep up the facade of a ‘peace’ deal with the U.S. government, the Taliban has yet again denied that Al Qaeda has a presence in Afghanistan. This time, the group refuted a Department of Defense report that Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) cooperates with the Taliban by claiming AQIS isn’t inside the country.
The Pentagon report, Enhancing Security and Stability In Afghanistan June 2020, included canned language about Al Qaeda that mirrors previous reports. The Pentagon minimized Al Qaeda’s threat to U.S. personnel in Afghanistan, while the ties between the Taliban and Al Qaeda were downplayed. The report claimed that AQIS only “supports and works with low-level Taliban members.”
Al-Qa’ida poses a limited threat to U.S. personnel and our partners in Afghanistan. Al-Qa’ida’s regional affiliate—al-Qa’ida in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS)—poses the greatest threat to those elements. AQIS routinely supports and works with low-level Taliban members in its efforts to undermine the Afghan Government, and maintains an enduring interest in attacking U.S. forces and Western targets in the region. Additionally, AQIS assists local Taliban in some attacks, according to al-Qa’ida statements.
The few remaining al-Qa’ida Core members focus largely on survival, while delegating leadership of AQ’s regional presence to AQIS leaders. AQ, including through AQIS, continues to work toward its stated goals of freeing occupied Muslim lands, establishing an Islamic caliphate, and implementing Shar’ia law. AQIS’s interest in attacking U.S. forces and other Western targets in Afghanistan and the region persists, but continuing Coalition CT pressure has reduced AQIS’s ability to conduct operations in Afghanistan without the support of the Taliban. AQIS likely poses a low threat to Afghan and U.S. entities in Afghanistan. Despite recent progress in the peace process, AQIS maintains close ties to the Taliban in Afghanistan, likely for protection and trainingEnhancing Security and Stability In Afghanistan June 2020, Page 28
The Pentagon’s claim that only low level Taliban commanders work with AQIS is false. This was proven when the U.S. military killed Asim Umar in an airstrike in the Taliban stronghold of Musa Qala in Helmand province, Afghanistan on Sept. 23, 2019. Umar was killed alongside the Taliban’s military commander for Musa Qala, as well as Umar’s courier to Al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri.
The U.S. Department of Defense suppressed a press release that would have announced the death of Asim Umar, the emir of Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, because it “would complicate future negotiations with the Taliban,” military officials have told FDD’s Long War Journal.
Additionally, the U.S. military believes that Zawahiri is based in eastern Afghanistan. General Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., the commander of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) said in mid-June that Zawahiri is based there. Zawahiri could not shelter in Afghanistan without the support of the Taliban and its senior leaders.
Taliban claims AQIS is not in Afghanistan
The Taliban responded to the latest Pentagon report by denying AQIS is in the country.
“We strongly reject this report and consider it propaganda and unsubstantiated for the following reasons,” the Taliban wrote in an official statement published on its website, Voice of Jihad, on July. 2.
According to the Taliban, “it does not seek to support anyone working outside the borders of Afghanistan in India or any other country.” [emphasis added]
“How is it then possible that we support anyone outside our borders,” the Taliban added.
“[T]he Islamic Emirate does not support any foreign organization in the Indian Subcontinent or any other place,” the Taliban continued.
The Taliban’s denial of an AQIS presence in Afghanistan is merely the latest attempt by the group to deny that Al Qaeda operates in the country. After McKenzie noted that the Taliban continues to support Al Qaeda and Zawahiri was based in Afghanistan, the Taliban claimed that Al Qaeda hasn’t been in the country since the U.S. invasion in late 2001.
This of course is patently false, as the U.S. has conducted numerous operations against Al Qaeda and the United Nations notes that the Taliban-Al Qaeda relations remains strong to this day. Additionally, Al Qaeda itself has admitted that it operates inside Afghanistan.
Mullah Omar, the Taliban’s first emir, admitted to defending Osama bin Laden and refused to hand him over to the U.S. after the 9/11 attacks. The Taliban lauded Omar’s defense of bin Laden as recently as April 2020.
The Taliban is pretending that Al Qaeda is not operating in Afghanistan in order to give the appearance that it is in compliance with the ‘peace’ deal struck with the U.S. that assures the withdrawal of American troops from the country.
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