Taliban denies knowledge of al-Zawahiri’s presence in Kabul, with some members blaming its Haqqani faction

The Taliban authorities claimed in a press release it had “no information about Ayman al-Zawahiri’s arrival and stay in Kabul,” after the U.S. airstrike that killed the top of al Qaeda whereas he was on the balcony of a safehouse in central Kabul early Sunday morning.

The multi-factioned group, already struggling to safe diplomatic relations with the worldwide neighborhood since Kabul fell to the Taliban final August, now faces insurmountable stress to elucidate how the chief of al Qaeda may have been residing overtly in Kabul’s notoriously rich Sherpur neighborhood. The space, previously inhabited by Western diplomats and expats, is dotted with giant homes regionally referred to as “poppy palaces”, a nickname reflecting the drug money flowing below earlier Afghan governments that helped build many of its garish properties. 

Al-Zawahiri’s predecessor, Osama bin Laden, had additionally been positioned proper below the nostril of authorities authorities — subsequent to Pakistan’s Military Academy, akin to West Point in the U.S.  — earlier than he was killed by U.S. Navy SEALs in May 2011.

The safehouse the place Al-Zawahiri was discovered had been occupied by Haqqanis, Sunni Islamist militants allied with the Taliban who had seized it from officers of the previous Afghan authorities. It’s now in the possession of the Taliban’s performing Interior Minister, Sirajuddin “Siraj” Haqqani, who can also be the chief of the infamous Haqqani Network — designated a terror group by the U.S. — and has a bounty of $10 million on his head

Briefing reporters forward of President Biden’s deal with on Monday night time, a senior administration official stated “Senior Haqqani Taliban figures were aware of Zawahiri’s presence in Kabul” and had taken steps after the strike to try to hide Zawahiri’s presence on the protected home. Haqqani Taliban members had additionally “acted quickly to remove Zawahiri’s wife, his daughter, and her children to another location, consistent with a broader effort to cover up that they had been living in the safe house,” the administration official stated.

A Taliban safety director advised CBS News on Thursday that Sirajuddin Haqqani is now “under tremendous pressure” as group members blame him for permitting al-Zawahiri to reside in Kabul, and so they might use him as “a scapegoat to avoid any further consequences.” He added, “It is the Haqqanis’ responsibility to keep eyes on everyone in Kabul,” and he claimed that “many” of the group’s leaders are suggesting the inside minister’s actions “have severely damaged and ruined the Taliban” and that “they want to punish him.”

The identical Taliban safety director had advised CBS News on Sunday after the drone assault that some “strange Arab guys” had been seen not too long ago close to the safehouse, and speculated that they might have been al Qaeda members. 

However, a Taliban cupboard minister advised CBS that the Taliban authorities is “unlikely to dismiss or change the role of interior minister Siraj Haqqani,” as a result of he’s “too heavy” for the more and more fractured group to confront. The cupboard minister stated the Taliban would do its personal investigation in response to U.S. complaints, and that there’s at present debate among the many group as as to whether it ought to stay dedicated to the Doha Agreement. 

“Certainly some of the Taliban leaders have suggested that the termination of the Haqqanis will cause a split amongst the Taliban, and that would create an even worse scenario for the regime,” one other senior Taliban safety officer advised CBS News.

“Given the adversarial relationship that has developed between different factions of the Taliban — some of the most notable being southern-based elements in opposition to the Haqqani Network — it’s not too surprising that one faction of the Taliban might try to pin the blame of hosting al Qaeda leaders, and the relationship with al Qaeda in general, on the Haqqani Network in order to score points in internal Taliban rivalries” Andrew Watkins, senior knowledgeable on Afghanistan on the United States Institute of Peace, advised CBS.

The Taliban had been fast to place their aspect of the strike on al-Zawahiri out first, with a spokesperson releasing a press release early Monday — earlier than information of his id was launched — confirming the U.S. drone strike in Kabul and condemning it as a “clear violation of international principles and the Doha Agreement.” 

A senior Taliban official then advised CBS News on Monday that al-Zawahiri had arrived on the protected home “about three weeks back.” However, the senior administration official who had briefed reporters forward of President Biden’s deal with on Monday night time stated the U.S. had positioned al-Zawahiri on the safehouse in Kabul months earlier, in April.

Another Taliban intelligence officer claimed to CBS News that the al Qaeda chief had been in the japanese Afghanistan province of Nuristan earlier than coming to Kabul. 

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday accused the Taliban of breaking their phrase. “By hosting and sheltering the leader of al Qaeda in Kabul, the Taliban grossly violated the Doha agreement and repeated assurances to the world that they would not allow Afghan territory to be used by terrorists to threaten the security of other countries,” he stated.

Taliban spokesperson Suhail Shaheen said on Thursday that the “IEA (Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan) reiterates its commitment once more that no threat to any country, including America, will be posed from the soil of Afghanistan. The IEA is adhering to full implementation of the Doha Agreement. Meanwhile, IEA wants violation of the Agreement by the USA to end.”

A Kabul police spokesman advised CBS News on Saturday that nobody else was injured in the drone strike, which was confirmed by the Biden administration on Monday. 

Those more likely to endure probably the most from the fallout of al-Zawahiri’s killing are Afghan civilians. Only final week, U.S. officers led by the State Department held one other spherical of talks with Taliban officers in Uzbekistan, which had included dialogue about releasing some of the $3.5 billion in frozen Afghan central financial institution belongings that may in any other case assist relieve the acute humanitarian disaster spiraling in the nation since final August, which has left tens of millions ravenous. 

Responding to CBS News’ request for touch upon how the killing of al-Zawahiri now impacts future U.S.-Taliban talks and what is going to occur to these much-needed funds, a State Department spokesperson stated, Thursday, “This egregious violation of the Taliban’s commitments in the Doha Agreement will have real and lasting consequences for the Taliban’s relationship with the rest of the world. At the same time, we recognize that engagement with the Taliban is practical and pertains to U.S. interests, including helping innocent Afghans through the humanitarian and economic crisis; pressing for the safe release of (Taliban-held American hostage) Mark Frerichs; promoting and protecting human rights advances made over the last 20 years; assisting American citizens, their families, and our Afghan partners.”

The spokesperson added “We are committed to the Afghan people and want them to stabilize their economy and live in a peaceful and stable country. We will continue to engage to support the Afghan people.”

Sirajuddin Haqqani had penned a New York Times op-ed again in February 2020, a couple of days earlier than the Trump administration struck its peace settlement with the Taliban, in which he wrote, “We are aware of concerns about the potential of Afghanistan being used by disruptive groups to threaten regional and world security. But these concerns are inflated.”

Olivia Gazis contributed reporting. 

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