Fact Check: President Biden’s claim Al Qaeda is not in Afghanistan is demonstrably false

President Joe Biden claimed that Al Qaeda is not in Afghanistan and the U.S. has received help from the Taliban in eliminating the terror groups presence in the country. However, a recent report by the United Nations Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team says that Al Qaeda has “safe haven” in Afghanistan and “the relationship between the Taliban and Al Qaeda remained close and symbiotic.”

“Remember what I said about Afghanistan?,” Biden said at a press conference on June 30. “I said Al Qaeda would not be there. I said it wouldn’t be there. I said we’d get help from the Taliban. What’s happening now? What’s going on? Read your press. I was right.”

However a cursory reading of the United Nations Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team report, which was released on June 9, shows that Biden is in fact wrong.

Claim: “I said Al Qaeda would not be there.”

Fact: Al Qaeda’s presence in Afghanistan is undeniable. Any illusion that Al Qaeda was no longer operating in Afghanistan following the Taliban’s takeover of the country on Aug. 15, 2021 should have melted away in July 2022, when the U.S killed Al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri in a drone strike in Kabul. Not only was Zawahiri sheltering in the Afghan capital, he was living in a posh safe house run by a lieutenant of Sirajuddin Haqqani, the Taliban’s Minister of Interior who also serves as one of the group’s two deputy emirs.

The UN report went even further in documenting Al Qaeda’s presence in Afghanistan. According to the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team, Al Qaeda is currently operating training camps in six Afghan provinces: Helmand, Zabul, Nangarhar, Nuristan, Badghis, and Kunar, where Al Qaeda is training members of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan. Al Qaeda is also running safe houses in Farah, Helmand, Herat and Kabul provinces, as well as a media operations center in Herat.

The UN estimates that there are at least 400 “Al Qaeda fighters” in Afghanistan, “reaching
2,000 with family members and supporters included.”

Claim: “I said we’d get help from the Taliban.”

Al Qaeda isn’t able to establish infrastructure in Afghanistan without the express approval and support of the Taliban, which dominates the security sphere. It isn’t the U.S. that is getting help from the Taliban, but Al Qaeda.

Three members of Al Qaeda, who are also leaders within the Taliban, serve as members of the Taliban’s government. Qari Ehsanullah Baryal and Hafiz Muhammad Agha Hakeem are governors of Kapisa and Nuristan provinces. Taj Mir Jawad was identified the Deputy Director of the General Directorate of Intelligence.

All three are well-known jihadists who have served both the Taliban and Al Qaeda well. Baryal and Jawad were key leaders of what used to be known as the Kabul Attack Network, the alliance of the Taliban, Al Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Taiba and a host of terror groups that organized and directed high-profile attacks in and around the Afghan capital up until the fall of the previous Afghan government. Hakeem is a key associate of Qari Zakir, the Haqqani Network’s former chief of suicide operations. 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.

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 …”

Not only are key Al Qaeda leaders serving in the Taliban’s government, but the Taliban is issuing passport and Afghan identification paperwork to members of Al Qaeda and their families. The Taliban’s Ministry of Defense is using Al Qaeda training manuals are part of its curriculum.

Claim: “What’s happening now? What’s going on? Read your press. I was right.”

It is unclear what press President Biden is reading, but it is beyond clear that what is happening in Afghanistan is anything but positive. Al Qaeda has established training camps, safe houses, and a media center in multiple provinces throughout Afghanistan. Al Qaeda leaders are ensconced within the Taliban government, while the Taliban is issuing passports to Al Qaeda members. Biden is anything but right.

For more information on the UN report on Afghanistan, see the following LWJ reports and Generation Jihad podcast:

Generation Jihad Ep. 94 — Al Qaeda has key roles in Taliban’s Afghanistan

Al Qaeda actively operating training camps in 5 Afghan provinces

Al Qaeda leaders are prominently serving in Taliban government

Afghan Taliban and Al Qaeda aiding Pakistani Taliban’s insurgency

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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