Wed, 23 Jun 2021

Kabul [Afghanistan], May 6 (ANI): Terrorist organisations Taliban and Al-Qaeda are breathing new life in the imminent withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan.

Al Qaeda is continuing to foster close relations with the Taliban group, despite a US-Taliban deal last year which required the terrorist group to break all ties with Osama Bin Laden's group, reported The Frontier Post.

"The Taliban gained huge respect amongst Islamists worldwide by surviving the US's longest war," one intelligence officer and undercover diplomat based in Afghanistan told The Daily Beast.

"[The Taliban and al Qaeda] respect each other. If there is no peace and stability in Afghanistan, [they] could be each other's darlings once again."Sohail Shaheen, a senior member of the Taliban negotiations team, told The Daily Beast that the Biden administration's failure to meet the original May 1 withdrawal deadline meant that all bets were off. "The US violated the accord. Now, the Taliban reserves the right to attack," Shaheen said while adding that the Taliban now has "big numbers of volunteers on the waiting list to join Jihad".

One Al Qaeda member who lives in Peshawar referred to a "shared global agenda" with the Taliban. "We have a long struggle ahead against the US and the infidels," he told The Daily Beast.

In his announcement of the new September 11 pull-out date last month, US President Joe Biden argued that the post-Bin Laden Al Qaeda was no longer a threat to the US. "We went to war with clear goals. We achieved those objectives. Bin Laden is dead, and Al Qaeda is degraded in Afghanistan. And it's time to end the forever war," he said.

But while Al Qaeda did suffer a decline since the collapse of its leadership, Afghan military personnel have reported that the group is maintaining formidable roots in the country, is active in battles in Afghanistan, and its adherents have been frequently spotted fighting alongside the Taliban, reported The Frontier Post.

"As a soldier on the ground, I can verify that Al Qaeda and Taliban are still fighting together. We have seen them, fought them and killed them," said one Afghan soldier, who identified himself as Karim to protect his identity.

"Al Qaeda members usually help Taliban in more complicated operations where they need technical expertise," he said.

"They are not only fighting, but also training Taliban on making IEDs, use of mortars, and small drones to conduct surveillance of Afghan checkpoints," said Sami Sadat, commanding general of the Afghan Army's 215 Maiwand corps, a specialised unit in the southern provinces.

"Al Qaeda has been pretty active since February last year; we have seen their experts' surface in the front lines and even behind enemy lines."In a recent statement shared with CNN by the insurgent group, Al Qaeda members promised to continue the war against the US "on all other fronts, unless they are expelled from the rest of the Islamic world".

A report by a UN Security Council committee came to a similar conclusion last August. "The senior leadership of Al Qaeda remains present in Afghanistan, as well as hundreds of armed operatives, Al Qaeda in the Indian subcontinent, and groups of foreign terrorist fighters aligned with the Taliban. A number of significant Al Qaeda figures were killed in Afghanistan during the reporting period," the UN report stated.

General Sadat's unit has captured Al Qaeda members while conducting operations on Taliban compounds--further backing up claims that the Taliban is sheltering Al Qaeda members, reported The Frontier Post.

In a recent airstrike in the Nahr-e-Seraj district of Helmand province last month, five of the 12 terrorists targeted turned out to be Al Qaeda members working in conjunction with Taliban. Earlier in March, another prominent Al Qaeda leader, Abu Muhammad Al Tajiki, was killed by Afghan forces alongside Taliban commander Hazrat Ali in Paktika province, reported The Frontier Post.

"The relationship remains intact," Ali Mir Asfandyar, a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University, told The Daily Beast.

Asfandyar explained that if it seems as though Al Qaeda in Afghanistan has been subdued, it is likely because they are complying with the Taliban's strategic guidance.

"The Taliban is trying to restrain some, not all, foreign fighters in the country--manage them. In general, Al Qaeda aligns with the Taliban strategy of forcing a US withdrawal as a priority," he said.

One explanation for their sustained bonhomie offered by officials, security forces and experts alike, was the shared ties of blood that have developed between the two groups.

"The Taliban and Al Qaeda relationships are beyond war. Many of their foreign fighters married daughters of the Taliban," Karim, who was familiar with many such fighters, said. "If you know anything about tribal customs in Afghanistan, you know an Afghan will give his head for their blood relations. So, it will not be easy to separate Taliban with Al Qaeda," he said. (ANI)

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