Secretary of State Antony Blinken repeatedly said on Sunday that it is in the “self interest” of the Taliban not to harbor a terrorist group that wants to harm the U.S., despite numerous experts concluding the Taliban still maintains close ties with Al-Qaeda.
“The Taliban have a certain self-interest in this. They know what happened the last time they harbored a terrorist group that attacked the United States. It’s not in their self-interest to allow a repeat of that,” Blinken said on NBC’s Meet the Press.
The United States invaded Afghanistan following the al-Qaeda terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The Taliban harbored Osama bin Laden and his terrorist group for years and were ousted from power but, following a two decade insurgency and this year’s chaotic U.S. withdrawal, swept across the country this month, seizing Kabul on Sunday as the Afghan military and government collapsed.
When the Taliban took over Kabul, it freed thousands of prisoners from the prison near Bagram airfield, including high-value Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters.
“We have and will maintain significant capacity to deal with any re-emergence of a terrorist threat from Afghanistan,” Blinked said Sunday.
In May, the United Nations Security Council’s monitoring team concluded that Afghanistan “remains host to a number of armed groups comprising foreign terrorist fighters, which are assessed to be allied variously” with the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and ISIS.
“A significant part of the leadership of Al-Qaeda resides in the Afghanistan and Pakistan border region, alongside Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent. Large numbers of Al-Qaeda fighters and other foreign extremist elements aligned with the Taliban are located in various parts of Afghanistan,” the UN report said.
The UN added: “The primary component of the Taliban in dealing with Al-Qaeda is the Haqqani Network. Ties between the two groups remain close, based on ideological alignment, relationships forged through common struggle and intermarriage.” The UN said that “it is impossible to assess with confidence that the Taliban will live up to its commitment to suppress any future international threat emanating from Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.”
The UN found that “Al-Qaeda and likeminded militants continue to celebrate developments in Afghanistan as a victory for the Taliban’s cause and thus for global radicalism.”
Blinken repeated his stance when speaking with Jake Tapper on CNN.
“I can’t tell you what the Taliban is going to do. But again, in their self-interest, allowing a repeat of what happened before 9/11, which is a terrorist group to re-emerge in Afghanistan that has designs on the United States – well, they know what happened last time, so I don’t think it’s in their self-interest to allow that to happen again,” he said.
Blinken also told ABC’s This Week that al-Qaeda’s “capacity to attack us again from Afghanistan has been — right now does not exist.”
The so-called peace agreement signed in February 2020 during the Trump administration between the U.S. and the Taliban said the U.S. “committed to withdraw from Afghanistan all military forces” within 14 months, while the Taliban said it would take “steps to prevent any group or individual, including al-Qaeda, from using the soil of Afghanistan to threaten the security of the United States and its allies.”
Then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defended the agreement, saying, “President Trump has allowed us to take the fight to the Taliban these last two years, and we have done so.” Pompeo argued, “It’s why they, for the first time, have announced that they are prepared to break with their historic ally, al-Qaeda.”
Pompeo added that the Taliban “agreed that they would break that relationship and that they would work alongside of us to destroy, deny resources to, and to have al-Qaeda depart from that place.”
However, in October, Edmund Fitton-Brown, coordinator of the UN's Islamic State, Al-Qaeda, and Taliban Monitoring Team, said, “The Taliban were talking regularly and at a high level with al-Qaeda and reassuring them that they would honor their historic ties… Al-Qaeda are heavily embedded with the Taliban and they do a good deal of military action and training action with the Taliban.”
Pentagon inspector general Sean O’Donnell wrote in February that “the Taliban continues to maintain relations with al-Qaeda” and that the Defense Intelligence Agency reported “al-Qaeda members were integrated into Taliban forces and command structures.” The DIA “stated that al-Qaeda likely welcomes the Afghanistan peace negotiations.”
In July 2020, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction wrote in that the U.S.’s Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, insisted a U.S. monitoring group concluded the Taliban made progress in not hosting al-Qaeda and that “we have succeeded in getting Taliban, which refused to break with al-Qaeda, to say what I have repeatedly referred to.” However, the Pentagon told the watchdog that al-Qaeda “routinely supports and works with low-level Taliban members in its efforts to undermine the Afghan Government” and “maintains close ties to the Taliban in Afghanistan.”
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