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In Afghanistan, Taliban’s Ties to al-Qaida Unchanged

Members of a Taliban delegation, led by chief negotiator Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, center, leave after peace talks with Afghan senior politicians in Moscow, May 30, 2019.
Members of a Taliban delegation, led by chief negotiator Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, center, leave after peace talks with Afghan senior politicians in Moscow, May 30, 2019.
In Afghanistan, Taliban's Ties to al-Qaida Unchanged
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During months of negotiations, the Afghan Taliban promised the United States that it would never again be attacked from Afghan soil. Such a promise would have included al-Qaida.

Eighteen years ago, al-Qaida’s leadership planned attacks on the U.S. mainland from inside Afghanistan, which was controlled, at the time, by the Taliban. The attacks were carried out on September 11, 2001.

The Taliban and al-Qaida are linked together by their shared history and desire for jihad, or holy war. And there is no evidence that the two groups have broken off relations.

Earlier, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the Taliban had agreed to cut ties with al-Qaida as part of peace negotiations.

President Donald Trump broke off the negotiations last week after a suicide bombing in Kabul killed 11 people. One of those killed belonged to the U.S. armed forces.

Experts: Taliban and al-Qaida remain allies

The al-Qaida leadership still vows loyalty to Taliban chief Maulvi Hibatullah Akhunzada. Experts say that the group has overcome setbacks, such as the establishment of an Islamic State group affiliate in eastern Afghanistan. The militants also have set up a group called al-Qaida in the Indian Subcontinent, which has influence as far as Myanmar.

Asfandyar Mir is with the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California.

Mir says that al-Qaida has recovered recently and its ties with the Taliban remain strong.

“There is no discernible evidence of a break or disjuncture between al-Qaida and the Taliban,” he told the Associated Press. “Instead, at least parts of the Afghan Taliban, such as the Haqqani Network, and al-Qaida continue to actively collaborate,” he added.

In the 1980s, U.S. officials were among those who urged Arab fighters to travel to Afghanistan to fight with the Afghan mujahedeen, or holy warriors. They were allied in an effort to oust the Soviet Union, which entered Afghanistan in late 1979.

Saudi Arabia’s government helped finance that “holy war.”

Today, many former members of the mujahedeen force make up the Taliban leadership. Others are part of the U.S.-supported Afghan government.

As the war against the Soviet occupation came to a close in 1988, many Arab fighters came together to follow a rich Saudi leader named Osama bin Laden. They created the militant group al-Qaida. Later, the group would seek to fight the U.S. government.

Afghanistan has suffered through years of fighting. The Taliban movement came to power in 1996 and ruled the country until it was ousted by the U.S.-led coalition in 2001.

Eighteen years of fighting have left the Taliban and its allies in control of, or influential in, half the country. That is its strongest position since the U.S.-led action in 2001 forced the group from power.

A U.S. government report suggests that the number of al-Qaida militants has also grown in recent years. Allied groups, such as the Pakistani Taliban, who hid in Afghanistan to escape the Pakistani military, are also gaining strength.

And Afghanistan still has many foreign fighters. A United Nations Security Council report from July said that “the largest concentrations of active foreign terrorist fighters” are in Syria and Afghanistan. Most are linked to al-Qaida.

Some members of the Taliban have tried to distance themselves from al-Qaida. But reports say al-Qaida remains allied to the Taliban’s leadership and its Haqqani network.

The Afghanistan expert Asfandyar Mir said that, in places that the group controls, the Taliban appoints governors who have ties to al-Qaida.

So, it is unclear how the Taliban could guarantee that Afghanistan would not become a safe place for terrorists after a peace deal is signed. U.S. peace representative Zalmay Khalilzad has yet to discuss details of his negotiations.

It remains unclear if the Taliban provided any information on where al-Qaida leaders are hiding, including bin Laden’s replacement, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Bill Roggio is a terrorism expert and main editor for The Long War Journal, published by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington, D.C. He said that al-Zawahiri and al-Qaida’s media group, as-Sahab, “remain in operation and likely are based in Pakistan or Afghanistan.”

Mir said al-Qaida’s media group creates propaganda aimed at Afghans and Pakistanis.

Roggio said the group has expanded to operate in many areas. He added that, “While al-Qaida’s ability to conduct a 9/11-style attack has been diminished, this does not make it any less a threat.”

I’m Mario Ritter Jr.

Kathy Gannon reported this story for the Associated Press. Mario Ritter Jr. adapted it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

vow –v. a serious promise to do something or behave in a certain way

affiliate – n. a person or group officially connected to a larger organization

discernible –adj. observable, recognizable

collaborate –v. to work together on some project

concentration –n. densely grouped together, having many members

to distance oneself –v. to show a lack of involvement with someone or something

diminish –v. to reduce or make smaller