Taliban under scrutiny as US kills al-Qaeda leader in Kabul

ISLAMABAD (AP) – The US drone strike that killed al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri on the balcony of a safe house in Kabul on Tuesday intensified a global investigation into Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers and sought to gain international recognition and desperately needed aid. further weakened their efforts.

The Taliban promised on the terms of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan in the 2020 Doha Agreement that they would not harbor al-Qaeda members. Nearly a year after the chaotic withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan, the killing of al-Zawahri raised questions about the involvement of Taliban leaders in harboring a mastermind of the 9/11 terror attacks and one of America’s most wanted fugitives.

The safe house is in Kabul’s Shirpur neighborhood, home to several Taliban leaders who moved into the homes of top Afghan officials in the West-backed government.

The Taliban initially sought to describe the strike by the US as a violation of the Doha deal, including a Taliban pledge that the US would not shelter those seeking to attack – some al-Zawahari reported on Internet videos And did for years in online screw. The Taliban have yet to say who was killed in the attack.

Meanwhile, rumors persist of unease in Taliban ranks – especially among the powerful group known as the Haqqani Network, which apparently sheltered al-Zawahri and other Taliban figures.

“The killing of Ayman al-Zawahri has raised many questions,” said a Pakistani intelligence official, who told the Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly to reporters. Al-Zawahri took over as the leader of al-Qaeda after Osama bin Laden was killed in Pakistan in a SEAL operation.

“The Taliban were aware of his presence in Kabul, and if they were not aware of it, they need to clarify their position,” the official said.

An early Sunday strike rocked Shirpur, which was once home to historic buildings that were bulldozed in 2003 to make way for luxury homes for officials from Afghanistan’s western-backed government and international aid organizations. After the US withdrawal in August 2021, the Taliban elite began taking over some of the abandoned homes there.

According to a senior US intelligence official, the house where al-Zawahri was staying was the home of a top aide of senior Taliban leader Sirajuddin Haqqani. Taliban officials on Tuesday prevented journalists from Andhra Pradesh from entering the damaged house in Kabul.

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 over the past 20 years, it fought US-led NATO troops and the former Afghanistan government.

Sirajuddin Haqqani has also served as the first deputy leader of the Taliban movement since 2016. Since last August, he has also served in the Taliban government’s appointed Interior Ministry. The US government places a $10 million reward on him for “several significant kidnappings and attacks against US and coalition forces in Afghanistan, the Afghan government and civilian targets”.

But the Haqqanis in Afghanistan’s eastern Khost province, led by the Taliban, disagree with others, mostly from the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar. Some believe that Sirajuddin Haqqani wants more power. Others in the Taliban have opposed Haqqani’s violent attacks against civilians in Kabul and elsewhere.

“It seems to me that the power struggle within the Taliban is normal. It’s not necessarily about the US or the international community. It’s about the new regime, how power is shared within the new regime, who gets what position. Who controls which ministry, to decide general policies, etc.,” said Jerome Draven, senior analyst at the International Crisis Group that studies Islamic terrorist groups.

“It is not surprising that the building will be owned by the Haqqani family. …This leads to tensions between the Taliban movement, especially in terms of how it is trying to reach out to the international community, to normalize itself and so on,” he said.

The timing of the strike could not have been a worse time for the Taliban politically. The militants face international condemnation for refusing to reopen schools for girls above grade six, despite earlier promises. The UN mission in Afghanistan also criticized the Taliban for human rights abuses under their rule.

The US and its allies have cut billions in development funding that kept the government afloat from abuses, as well as freezing billions in Afghan national wealth.

It sent an already shattered economy into free fall, dramatically increased poverty and created one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. Millions of people struggling to feed their families have been kept alive by massive UN-led relief efforts.

The Taliban is trying to tap that aid and its stockpile again. However, al-Zawahari’s killing has already been seized by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken as a sign that the Taliban “grossly violated the Doha Agreement and repeatedly assured … the security of other countries.”

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, however, alleged that the US had violated the Doha Agreement by attacking. Afghanistan’s state television channel – now under the Taliban – reported that President Joe Biden said al-Zawahri had been killed.

“The killing of Ayman al-Zawahari closed a chapter of al-Qaeda,” said Imtiaz Gul, executive director of the Islamabad-based Center for Research and Security Studies.

In the Middle East, al-Zawahri’s assassination coincided with the 32nd anniversary of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, which sparked a US military presence in Saudi Arabia – the same presence that bin Laden used to launch the 9/11 attacks. was indicated in. Anwar Gargash, a senior diplomat in the United Arab Emirates, noted the timing.

“This is an opportunity for the region to reflect and reflect on the absurdity of extremism, terrorism and reckless military exploits and how it all affects the (region) fabric,” Gargash wrote on Twitter. “Lessons and teachings exist, and hope rests on countries in the region uniting to guarantee security and shared development.”

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Associated Press writers John Gambrel and Isabel Debre in Dubai, United Arab Emirates contributed to this report.

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