The US drone strike that killed al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri on the balcony of a hiding place in Kabul last weekend has intensified global control over the Afghan Taliban rulers and their efforts to gain international recognition and much-needed aid. to obtain further undermined.
The Taliban had promised in the 2020 Doha Agreement on the terms of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan that they would not host al-Qaeda members.
Nearly a year after the US military’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, the assassination of al-Zawahri raises questions about the Taliban leadership’s involvement in harboring a mastermind behind the 9/11 terror attacks and one of America’s most wanted fugitives.
The hiding place is in Kabul’s upscale Shirpur neighborhood, home to several Taliban leaders who had taken up residence in the mansions of former top Afghan officials of the overthrown, Western-backed government.
The Taliban initially tried to describe the strike as America violating the Doha deal, which also includes a Taliban pledge not to protect those who want to attack the United States — something al-Zawahri has been doing for years in internet videos and online screeds. . The Taliban have not yet been able to say who died in the strike.
Meanwhile, rumors persist of unrest in the Taliban ranks, especially between the powerful group known as the Haqqani Network, which apparently protected al-Zawahri, and other Taliban figures.
“The assassination of Ayman al-Zawahri has raised many questions,” said a Pakistani intelligence official, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters publicly.
Al-Zawahri became the leader of al-Qaeda after Osama bin Laden was assassinated in Pakistan in 2011 during an operation by US Navy SEALs.
“The Taliban were aware of his presence in Kabul, and if they were not aware of it, they should explain their position,” the official said.
The strike early Sunday shook up Shirpur, once home to historic buildings that were bulldozed in 2003 to make way for luxury homes for officials of the Western-backed government of Afghanistan and international aid agencies. After the US withdrawal in August 2021, the Taliban elite began to occupy some of the abandoned houses there.
The house where al-Zawahri stayed was, according to a senior US intelligence official, the home of a top aide to senior Taliban leader Sirajuddin Haqqani. Taliban officials on Tuesday blocked AP journalists in Kabul from reaching the damaged home.
The United Nations Security Council was informed in July by observers from militant groups that al-Qaeda enjoys greater freedom in Afghanistan under the Taliban, but is limited to advising and supporting the country’s new rulers.
A report from the observers said the two groups remain close together and that al-Qaeda fighters, estimated to be between 180 and 400, are represented “at an individual level” among Taliban combat units.
The observers said it is unlikely that al-Qaeda will attempt to launch direct strikes outside Afghanistan, “due to a lack of capacity and restraint on the part of the Taliban, as well as an unwillingness to jeopardize their recent gains.” like having a safe. refuge and improved resources.
In the first half of 2022, al-Zawahri extended support to supporters with video and audio messages, including assurances that al-Qaeda can compete with the Islamic State group for leadership of a global movement, the Analytical Support report said. and Sanctions Monitoring said squad.
Islamic State militants have emerged as a major threat to the Taliban in the past year, carrying out a series of deadly attacks on Taliban targets and civilians.
The Haqqani Network is an Afghan Islamist rebel group around the family of the same name. In the 1980s it fought against Soviet forces and for the past 20 years it fought against US-led NATO forces and the former government of Afghanistan.
Sirajuddin Haqqani has also served as the first deputy leader of the Taliban movement since 2016. The US government maintains a $10 million bounty on him for “numerous major kidnappings and attacks on US and coalition forces in Afghanistan, the Afghan government and civilian targets. “
But the Haqqanis, from Afghanistan’s eastern Khost province, disagree with others in the Taliban leadership, mainly from the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar. Some believe Sirajuddin Haqqani wants more power. Other Taliban figures have resisted the Haqqanis’ violent attacks on civilians in Kabul and elsewhere.
“It seems to me that the power struggle within the Taliban is general. It is not necessarily about the US or about the international community. It is about the new regime, how to share power within the new regime, who gets what position, who determine which ministries, determine general policy and so on,” said Jerome Drevon, senior analyst for the International Crisis Group, which studies Islamist militant groups.
“It is not so surprising that the building [al-Zawahri lived in] would belong to the Haqqani family. … That creates a tension [in] what the Taliban movement is, especially in terms of how it’s trying to reach the international community, normalize itself and so on.”