Al Qaeda leaders are prominently serving in Taliban government

Several members of Al Qaeda are serving as leaders and key functionaries within the Taliban’s government, which it calls the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Among them are two provincial governors, the Deputy Director of the General Directorate of Intelligence, and a training director in the Ministry of Defense.

The details of the Al Qaeda leaders working in the Taliban government were disclosed by the United Nations Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team, which issued its latest report on Afghanistan on June 9.

The Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team assessed that “the relationship between the Taliban and Al Qaeda remained close and symbiotic, with Al Qaeda viewing Taliban-administered Afghanistan a safe haven,” while Al Qaeda provides support for the Taliban regime. This assessment jibes with continued reporting from FDD’s Long War Journal, which has maintained that ties between the Taliban and Al Qaeda have only strengthened since the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan after the U.S. withdrawal in Aug. 2021.

The presence of Al Qaeda leaders in government and administrative positions is far from surprising. The Taliban began integrating members of foreign terrorist groups within its shadow governance and military in the early 2010s.

The U.S. military began identifying and targeting what it called “dual hatted” Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders and facilitators, as well as members from groups such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. These dual hatted operatives were often appointed to district level administrative and military positions, however some have held high level positions within the Taliban, such as Fazeel-a-Tul Shaykh Abu Mohammed Ameen al Peshwari (a.k.a. Sheikh Mohammed Aminullah), who commanded the Taliban’s Peshwar Regional Military Council, and Qari Zia Rahman, who commanded regional forces in northeastern Afghanistan. Many leaders of the Haqqani Network, including its leader Sirajuddin Haqqani, who serves as one of two deputy Taliban emirs as well as the interior minister, are considered dual hatted leaders with intricate and long-standing ties to Al Qaeda.

Key dual hatted leaders serving in the Taliban government

The UN report identified two dual hatted leaders serving as governors, Qari Ehsanullah Baryal and Hafiz Muhammad Agha Hakeem. Additionally, Taj Mir Jawad was identified the Deputy Director of the General Directorate of Intelligence. The report referred to the three leaders as “affiliated with Al Qaeda,” however they meet the definition of a dual hatted Taliban and Al Qaeda leader.

Baryal, who currently serves as the governor of Kapisa province, is a well-known dual hatter. He is a notorious Taliban military commander who organized attacks in and around the capital of Kabul, including deadly attacks on U.S. soldiers and civilians. He was a senior leader of what used to be known as the Kabul Attack Network.

The U.S. military previously described Baryal as an “Al Qaeda-associated Taliban leader.” Baryal regularly received cash from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps – Qods Force to execute his attacks. In July 2013, the U.S. Army’s National Ground Intelligence Center [NGIC] described Baryal as the Taliban’s “Northern Zone Commander,” and noted that as the “Parwan, Kapisa, and Panjshir North Zone Commander,” he facilitated attacks in these provinces as well as “attacks in Kabul City.” [See LWJ report, Taliban appoints Kabul Attack Network commander as provincial governor.]

Hakeem, who currently serves as the Taliban’s governor of Nuristan province, is a key associate of Qari Zakir, the Haqqani Network’s former chief of suicide operations. Zakir was arguably a leader of Al Qaeda. Zakir is thought to have been killed alongside Hamza bin Laden, the son of Osama bin Laden and a rising star in Al Qaeda, in a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan’s Kurram tribal agency in September 2019.

Hakeem was also a key leader who helped form Badri Lashkar 313, a special forces wing of the Taliban’s army. Badri Lashkar 313 has been responsible for some of the group’s key battlefield successes during the takeover of Afghanistan, and has also conducted complex suicide operations. The Haqqani Network and Al Qaeda are believed to have played a key role in the formation of Badri Lashkar 313.

Jawad, the current Deputy Director of General Directorate of Intelligence, was the other co-leader of the Kabul Attack Network. Jawad was identified by the U.S. military as a Haqqani Network leader and targeted in strikes more than a decade ago.

The UN also noted that other “Al Qaeda members have received appointments and advisory roles in the Taliban security and administrative structures,” including an “unnamed training director of the de facto Ministry of Defense …”

At the Ministry of Defense, “training was based on Al Qaeda manuals, which were openly being used at Ministry facilities.”

The Taliban is also providing Al Qaeda members with “monthly ‘welfare payments’” and “Afghan passports and tazkiras (national identity cards).” The Ministry of Interior, which is controlled by Sirajuddin Haqqani, issues the passports and identity cards.

The UN report noted that Al Qaeda views Afghanistan as a “safe haven.” Given the Taliban’s integration of Al Qaeda leaders and members within its government and military, and the Taliban’s reciprocal support, it is clear that the relationship has only deepened after the withdrawal of U.S. forces and collapse of the Afghan government.

Correction: Hafiz Hakeem was originally identified as a protege of Mullah Abdul Qayum Zakir. He served under Qari Zakir. The article was updated to reflect this.

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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