Al Qaeda has shown “strategic patience” and “played the long game” successfully in Afghanistan thanks to its close relationship with the Taliban and the Haqqani network, according to two international security officials from the FBI and the United Nations.
Charles Spencer, deputy director of the FBI’s international operations division, and Edmund Fitton-Brown, coordinator of the UN’s analytical support and sanctions monitoring team for ISIS, al-Qaeda and the Taliban, have made their comments on al-Qaeda’s resilience in an interview with American journalist Peter Bergen at the Soufan Center World Security Forum Tuesday.
“I think they’re smart. They played the long game. They played the long game, I think, knowing – I mean, if you go back to the ’90s, I mean Bin Laden pledged allegiance to the Taliban, and I think the Taliban have supported al Qaeda for all this time, ”Spencer said. “And they knew that if the Taliban came back, I believe those allegiances, I believe those agreements will still be there. I think on the outside whether the Taliban say they will accept it or not, I think the underlying relationship, the long-standing relationship they have, will continue. “
He added that al Qaeda “has made steady gains coming back, but I think they are gaining strength, and I think that [Taliban takeover] will invigorate them significantly.
Fitton-Brown had similar thoughts, saying, “I would characterize them as having been strategically patient over the years, which was not always a good idea compared to the rapid expansion and the kind of spectacular successes that the ‘ISIL has had it for a while, but I think it looks more like a source of strength now in the sense that al Qaeda has survived, its brand has survived and it remains entrenched in a number of conflict zones across. the world, which gave it a place and the opportunity to form and maintain its popularity.
A number of members of the al-Qaeda-linked group Haqqani Network have received top positions in the “interim” government of the Taliban, including leader Sirajuddin Haqqani, who is now interim interior minister. Haqqani, who is also the Taliban’s “deputy emir”, “currently directs the daily activities of the Haqqani network,” according to the State Department website. Haqqani has been designated a terrorist by the United States, and the State Department’s Justice Rewards program is offer $ 10 million for his arrest.
The UN official was asked about Sirajuddin’s role in the new Taliban government, and Fitton-Brown said he was “seen as a member of the broader Al Qaeda leadership”.
“Sirajuddin Haqqani embodies the organic bond between the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and his appointment to this post leads us to believe that al-Qaeda has a safe haven in Afghanistan for the foreseeable future,” he added. .
Bergen described the role of Home Secretary as the equivalent of someone running both the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI and asked Spencer what he thought of Sirajuddin’s key position.
“I think it’s going to be interesting to see how the United States government interacts with the new Afghan government on this basis, because so many members of the government are Taliban or Al Qaeda or have that training,” he said. Spencer said. “How are we going to get around this? Because here you have members of a designated terrorist organization who now essentially run a government. “
Hibatullah Akhundzada, took into consideration the “emir” of Afghanistan by the Taliban, is a powerful al-Qaeda ally. Current al-Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri would have swore allegiance to Akhundzada as “emir of the believers” in 2016.
Joint Chiefs of Staff President General Mark Milley warned last month, “The Taliban were and remain a terrorist organization and they still have not severed their ties with al-Qaeda.”
“Al Qaeda is still in Afghanistan,” Milley added. “I believe they have aspirations to replenish themselves, and if they develop the capacity, I think they have aspirations to strike… I think Al Qaeda is still at war with the United States.”
Matthew Pottinger, deputy national security adviser to former President Donald Trump, also spoke at the forum on Tuesday.
“I am deeply skeptical that the Taliban would one day live up to their agreement to sever ties with al-Qaeda,” Pottinger said. “I mean, they didn’t cut ties with them right after September 11, which cost them 20 years in Afghanistan. They certainly did not sever their ties during the 20 years that we were at war with them.
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Original author: Jerry dunleavy