September 27, 2022

The Taliban staged large demonstrations on Friday against America and leftist President Joe Biden in response to the US military killing al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in a drone strike in Kabul, Afghanistan, last weekend.

Al-Zawahiri, who took over the terror group after the death of Osama bin Laden, reportedly lived openly in the wealthy Kabul neighborhood of Sherpur for months. The United Nations said in a report shortly before Biden announced the airstrike that it was “likely” Taliban terrorists were giving al-Zawahiri safe harbor.

Biden announced Monday that a drone strike killed al-Zawahiri with minimal damage and no other casualties while he was on his balcony in Sherpur. The Taliban, who seized Afghanistan after Biden scrapped a Trump-era deal that would have ended the war in Afghanistan in May, responded to the news by initially “strongly condemning[ing]The airstrike, subsequently claiming that the jihadist Taliban had “no information” that al-Zawahiri had entered the country or was living in Kabul. Reports citing unspecified US intelligence agencies say that, in addition to apparently living in the Taliban capital, the terror chief may have been living in a house owned by a senior member of the Haqqani Network linked to the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

The Taliban and al-Qaeda are both Sunni jihadist organizations with decades of friendly relations. The Trump-era deal between the Taliban and Washington, commonly known as the “Doha deal” after the city it brokered, would have required the Taliban to cut all ties with al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations.

The Afghan government’s Bakhtar news agency published several photos and videos from Kabul, Kandahar and other major Afghan population centers of large numbers of men gathered to condemn the airstrike against Zawahiri. Mobs appear holding banners with flattering photos of Joe Biden and chanting anti-American slogans. Bakhtar, who acts as a Taliban spokesman, claimed that “hundreds of thousands” of people had attended the protests across the country.

Pajhwok, an independent Afghan news agency, are listed At least nine provinces are staging protests against America taking action to remove the al Qaeda leader from the battlefield: Kabul, Farah, Nangarhar, Kandahar, Khost, Badghis, Balkh and Logar, in addition to “a number of other provinces.” Her report said the protests appear to be organized by mosques to follow Friday prayers.

“We ask the US to leave Afghanistan and leave this country alone. America has no right to attack our country,” one protester told Pajhwok.

Another participant in Farah’s demonstration, a preacher at the local mosque, appeared to deny that the airstrike had taken place at all.

“America must take back its lie. Joe Biden is lying about making Ayman al-Zawahiri a martyr,” the preacher was quoted as saying.

Afghanistan’s Ariana News, which reports from many of those cities, noted that some protesters added to their demands that “America abide by the Doha agreement,” echoing the Taliban’s first statement on the airstrike 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,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid wrote in the statement released Tuesday. “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 himself had announced that the Doha agreement was effectively canceled after Biden unilaterally decided to extend America’s presence in Afghanistan beyond May 1, 2021, a deadline the Trump administration had agreed to.

Mujahid’s first statement this week did not mention Zawahiri. On Thursday, it released a second statement on behalf of the Taliban, denying any knowledge of or involvement in the al Qaeda leader’s presence in the Taliban capital.

“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan [the Taliban] he has no information about the arrival and stay of Ayman al-Zawahiri in Kabul,” Mujahid 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.”

In addition to the protests, the Taliban’s “defense minister,” Mullah Mohammad Yaqub Mujahid, said in an interview this week that America should recognize the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan and urged the American public to pressure their government to support the Taliban.

“There are more countries in the world that pose a greater danger to America than Afghanistan, but still America has officially recognized them. I think the recognition is a positive step toward greater change,” Mujahid told NPR, according to Afghanistan’s Ariana News.

“I am asking the nation of America to put pressure on the government,” he added, if the obstacle to recognition was America’s lack of political capital to do so.

The Taliban overthrew the US-recognized government of Afghanistan on August 15, 2021, after then-President Ashraf Ghani fled the country. The Taliban’s takeover of all Afghan territory came quickly after Biden announced he would keep US troops in the country after May 1, in violation of the Doha agreement.

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