UN says Taliban continues al-Qaeda ties in rebuff to US
WASHINGTON: The Afghan Taliban has maintained its ties to al-Qaeda despite assurances it made to Washington to sever all ties with the hardline militant group, the UN said late on Monday.
The UN’s Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team told the Security Council in a submitted report that it relations between the Taliban and al-Qaeda, particularly its Haqqani Network, “remain close,” and are rooted in “friendship, a history of shared struggle, ideological sympathy and intermarriage.”
“The Taliban regularly consulted with Al-Qaida during negotiations with the United States and offered guarantees that it would honour their historical ties. Al-Qaida has reacted positively to the agreement, with statements from its acolytes celebrating it as a victory for the Taliban’s cause and thus for global militancy,” the report said, using the British spelling for “honor.”
The UN’s report said the Taliban had met six times over the past 12 months with al-Qaeda, including the most prominent such instance in spring 2019 when the Taliban’s top officials met with Hamza bin Laden, son of Osama bin Laden, to reassure “the Islamic Emirate would not break its historical ties with Al-Qaida for any price.”
The Taliban calls itself the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.
The report cited a number of countries who reported that the “Taliban appear to have strengthened their relationship with Al-Qaida rather than the opposite.”
“One Member State reported that the regularity of meetings between Al-Qaida seniors and the Taliban ‘made any notion of a break between the two mere fiction,'” the report said, without naming the country.
The report’s findings echo concerns that U.S. military leaders have also aired. U.S. Central Command’s General Frank McKenzie gave a bleak assessment of the Taliban’s ability to follow through with the deal in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee in March. He was explicitly skeptical about the Taliban’s pledge to break with al-Qaeda. “That is something (the Taliban) are going to have to demonstrate that has not yet been demonstrated,” he said on March 13, roughly two weeks after the peace deal was signed. “We don’t need to trust them, we don’t need to like them, we don’t need to believe anything they say. We need to observe what they do.” Central Command declined to comment further, and the National Security Council and U.S. Forces Afghanistan did not respond to requests for comment.
On Monday after the report’s publication, U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad declined to criticize the U.N. report, and described the Taliban’s break with al-Qaeda as a work in progress that could slow down U.S. troop withdrawals. “The Taliban have made…specific commitments with regard to al-Qaeda and other groups that could threaten the United States,” in terms of training, recruiting, and fundraising, Khalilzad told a small group of reporters by phone. “The job is not done yet on that but…progress has been made. And our future steps in terms of force reduction and related commitments depends on the Talibs delivering.” He would not say whether he was aware of ongoing Taliban-al-Qaeda talks during his negotiations.