The alliance between the Taliban and Al Qaeda: a bomb-proof loyalty | International

The photograph published thousands of times of Osama Bin Laden and Ayman Al Zawahiri together had become a symbol of the greatest outrage of international terrorism: the attacks of September 11, 2001. Since last Sunday, the United States can already boast that both heads of the terrorist group Al Qaeda have been liquidated. The first, in May 2011 in Pakistan. The second, successor to the first, on July 31, 2022 in Kabul. And both have found death in extremely delicate operations that require a network of technology and collaborators that make achieving the objective force it to be celebrated in style, as President Joe Biden did. Because it is not the same that Bin Laden and Al Zawahiri die in combat or committing an attack as their main enemy manages to kill them.

Before 9/11, Bin Laden had sealed a pact with Mullah Mohamed Omar, who had founded the Taliban movement in Kandahar, in southern Afghanistan, in 1994. That alliance was essential for the Saudi terrorist to find accommodation in this country after the attacks he directed against the United States. The protection offered by Omar was what led President George W. Bush to order the invasion that kept his troops on Afghan soil from 2001 to 2021. The negotiations between the US and the Taliban in Qatar to end the occupation achieved the signing of the so-called Doha agreement in February 2020 under the presidency of Donald Trump. In addition to planning the departure of the troops, the pact stated that Afghanistan would no longer serve as a base for terrorists who threaten the United States. But the Taliban are a much better breeding ground for Al Qaeda than foreign-occupied Afghanistan.

The fact that Al Zawahiri settled in a residence in the very center of Kabul, something that nobody considers possible without the approval of the Taliban, not only turned the Doha agreement, the capital of Qatar, into a dead letter. It also served to confirm that the alliance of Bin Laden and Omar, who died in 2013, remained very strong over the years and outlived both leaders. “The fact that he was in Afghanistan, as many predicted, is not a surprise, nor – according to the Taliban’s own claims – a violation of the Doha agreements. This is due to the numerous legal loopholes in the agreements themselves”, comments the Italian researcher Riccardo Valle.

Different Taliban factions

Without specifying a possible participation from within that has made the death of the Al Qaeda leader possible, Valle, a collaborator at the University of Trieste, refers to the differences that may exist within the Taliban themselves when it comes to managing their relations with the terrorist group. “It seems that the Taliban are divided between those who want to keep Al Qaeda quiet and calm, although they still want to receive them in Afghanistan, and, on the other hand, those who are closer to the terrorist organization and want to maintain the alliance by praising Al Zawahiri, like the members of the Haqqani network”, he points out in written responses. He refers to a faction of the Taliban that enjoys a certain autonomy, which is in charge of security in Kabul and is led by Sirajuddin Haqqani, Minister of the Interior and one of the Emirate’s hawks.

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With the capture of Kabul on August 15 last year, the Taliban gained full control of Afghanistan. They did so rubbing their hands in the midst of the calamitous withdrawal of international troops and the surrender of the local Army. That blur surely weighs more on Biden’s mandate than the medal that has been hung with the death of Al Zawahiri, although this has been achieved through a surgical bombing with a drone in the heart of the Afghan capital. “In any case, the Taliban is likely to continue to harbor Al Qaeda and other organizations; their approach towards these groups may change, but solidarity will remain”, predicts Riccardo Valle.

It is true that in this last year the local population has gained a certain security in their daily life and when moving around the country, as recognized by employees of some international organizations deployed in the Asian country. But if that is so, the paradox no longer escapes anyone, it is because the Taliban themselves were the ones who spread terror throughout Afghanistan, killing not only foreign military occupiers, but also indigenous troops and thousands of citizens in often indiscriminate attacks. .

About to complete the first year of the Taliban’s second rise to power —they already did so between 1996 and 2001—, the main threat they must face now, installed in power in the Emirate they have established, is that represented by the terrorists of the Islamic State. (ISIS, according to its acronym in English). This terrorist group was born in Iraq from a split from Al Qaeda and, from terror, the positions of both seem far apart. Since the middle of the last decade, it has had its own franchise in Afghanistan, where they call themselves the Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISIS-K).

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