The Taliban have broken their silence on the US drone strike that killed a top al Qaeda leader in the Afghan capital, acknowledging his death and pledging to launch an investigation.
The killing of Ayman al-Zawahri on the balcony of a Kabul bunker on Sunday has further strained relations between the Taliban and the West, particularly as they seek an emergency infusion of cash to deal with an economic disaster there after the US withdrawal a year ago .
“The government and the leadership didn’t know what they were claiming, no trace there,” Suhail Sahin, head of the group’s political office in Doha, Qatar, told The Associated Press.
In a separate statement, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid also insisted the group did not know al-Zawahiri was living in a house in Kabul.
“We had no information about his arrival and his stay at home,” Mujahid said.
He added that the incident would be thoroughly investigated and that “there is no threat to the US and other countries from Afghan soil.”
Those claims are in direct conflict with what US officials have said about the strike. They said al-Zawahri was staying at the home of a top aide to senior Taliban leader Sirajuddin Haqqani.
Haqqani is the deputy head of the Taliban, serves as interior minister in their government and heads the Haqqani network, a powerful faction within the movement.
The Taliban had promised in the 2020 Doha Agreement with the US that they would not harbor al-Qaeda members or those seeking to attack the US
An “investigation is underway to establish the truth of the allegation. The leadership is in constant meeting about this. The findings will be shared with everyone,” Shaheen added.
The strike rocked Shirpur, once a district of historic buildings that were bulldozed in 2003 to make way for luxury homes for officials of Afghanistan’s Western-backed government and international aid organizations.
After the US withdrawal last August, senior Taliban moved into some of the abandoned houses there.
The Haqqani network is an Afghan Islamic insurgent group built around the family of the same name.
In the 1980s, it fought Soviet forces, and for the past 20 years it has fought US-led NATO troops and the former government of Afghanistan.
The US government maintains a $10 million bounty on Sirajuddin Haqqani for attacks on US troops and Afghan civilians.
However, the Haqqani, from Afghanistan’s eastern Khost province, have rivals in the Taliban leadership, mainly from the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar.
Some believe Haqqani wants more power. Other Taliban figures have spoken out against Haqqani attacks on civilians in Kabul and elsewhere during the insurgency.
In the first half of 2022, al-Zawahri increasingly reached out to supporters with video and audio messages, including assurances that al-Qaeda could compete with the so-called Islamic State group for leadership of a global movement, according to a report of the United Nations Analytical Service. The Sanctions Support and Monitoring Group said.