The jihadist Taliban claimed in an official statement Thursday that they had “no information” about the highly visible presence of former al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri in Kabul, Afghanistan, where a US airstrike killed him last weekend.
The Taliban have controlled Afghanistan for nearly a year after left-wing President Joe Biden announced he would scrap a deal with the Sunni terror group brokered by predecessor Donald Trump to extend the 20-year-old Afghan war beyond May 1, 2021. both sides had agreed.
Taliban leaders responded to Biden’s move by announcing they would no longer abide by the deal — which would have required the Taliban to sever ties with al-Qaida and other terrorist groups — and by launching a successful campaign to topple the U.S.-backed the US government in the capital. As of July 2021, Taliban representatives denied ever agreeing to sever ties with al-Qaeda.
Biden himself announced on Monday that a US strike in Kabul’s affluent Sherpur neighborhood had killed al-Zawahiri, reportedly causing minimal damage and no other casualties. Al-Zawahiri took over the terrorist organization after the US eliminated longtime leader Osama bin Laden, who masterminded the September 11, 2001, attacks on America.
Taliban leaders initially responded by condemning the US airstrike as a violation of the Taliban’s “sovereignty” as Afghanistan’s functioning government without mentioning Zawahiri at all.
On Thursday, top spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid issued an updated statement claiming that Taliban officials did not know Zawahiri was in Kabul, had “no information” on how he got there and would conduct an “investigation” into the matter.
— Zabihullah (..ذبـــــيح الله م ) (@Zabehulah_M33) August 4, 2022
“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan [the Taliban] has no information about the arrival and stay of Ayman al-Zawahiri in Kabul,” the Mujahid statement said. “The leadership of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has instructed the investigation and intelligence agencies to conduct a comprehensive and serious investigation into the various aspects of the incident.”
Mujahid emphasized that no entity operating in Afghanistan – possibly including al Qaeda, to which the Taliban had provided safe harbor in the years before the 9/11 attacks – posed a threat to America.
“There is no threat to any country, including America, from the territory of Afghanistan, the Islamic Emirate wants to implement the Doha pact and the violation of the pact must stop,” the statement said. “The fact that America invaded our territory and violated all international principles, we strongly condemn the action once again. If such an action is repeated, responsibility for any consequences will lie with the United States of America.”
The “Doha Accord” is the agreement between the Trump administration and the Taliban, brokered in Doha, Qatar, in 2020. The Taliban had previously claimed that Biden’s decision to extend the war in Afghanistan had worked as an end to the Doha Accord , though he also continues regularly to accuse Washington of violating it.
Taliban leaders also complained that the airstrike violated the Doha agreement on Tuesday.
“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan strongly condemns this attack for any reason and calls it a clear violation of international principles and the Doha Agreement,” Mujahid wrote in the Taliban’s initial statement on the strike. “Such actions are a repetition of the failed experiences of the past 20 years and are against the interests of the United States of America, Afghanistan and the region. Repeating such actions will damage the opportunities available.”
Mujahid initially did not acknowledge any link between the airstrike and al-Qaeda or al-Zawahiri in response to the strike.
Like Mujahid, Suhail Shaheen, the Taliban’s unofficial ambassador to the United Nations, told reporters Thursday that his organization did not know where Zawahiri was, according to Reuters.
“The government and the leadership did not know what they were claiming, no trace there,” Shaheen said. “Investigation is ongoing to establish the truth of the allegation.”
The circumstances surrounding Zawahiri’s presence in one of the most elite areas of the Taliban capital make it unlikely that the jihadists were unaware he was in the city, unless the Taliban have much less control over Afghanistan than the evidence suggests. or its security mechanism is extremely incompetent. Multiple References indicate that Zawahiri made no attempt to hide his presence and the general public could see him lounging on his balcony – where the airstrike took place – on a regular basis.
Reports citing unspecified “intelligence reports” and US officials claim the house where Zawahiri lived belongs to either “Top aide” to Sirajuddin Haqqani, the Taliban’s senior leader and head of the al-Qaeda Haqqani network of links, or Haqqani the same.
“We know that some senior leaders of the Haqqani Network were aware” of Zawahiri’s presence in the city, White House spokesman John Kirby said in a televised interview on Monday. “And we know that from the way they’ve tried to cover things up in the last 24, 48 hours. … Look, I mean, al Qaeda was on the ground in Afghanistan even as the president decided to end that war, and we knew that, and we talked about it, that al Qaeda was already reestablishing a presence there.”
Haqqani is a New York Times-published columnist, writing if article titled “What do we, the Taliban, want” for the far-left newspaper in 2020. Times described Haqqani as the “deputy leader of the Taliban”.
The Biden administration denied a link between the Taliban and the Haqqani Network shortly after the fall of Kabul last year.