Taliban 'still have close ties to al-Qaeda' UN monitors say

Ben Farmer
A multiple explosion rocks Al Qaeda positions in the Tora Bora mountains after an attack by US warplanes 14 December 2001 - EPA

The Taliban retain close ties to al-Qaeda, despite an agreement with America that Washington hoped would see the Afghan militants turn their backs on the terrorist group, according to United Nations monitors.

The al-Qaeda leadership remain in Afghanistan and have been given assurances that the Taliban movement would respect their historic links, the report claims. The Taliban and its Haqqani Network faction have also regularly consulted with the movement founded by Osama bin Laden as the militants negotiated a landmark withdrawal agreement with American troops.

“Relations between the Taliban, especially the Haqqani Network, and Al-Qaeda remain close, based on friendship, a history of shared struggle, ideological sympathy and intermarriage,” the monitors' 28-page report concluded. “The Taliban regularly consulted with Al-Qaeda during negotiations with the United States and offered guarantees that it would honour their historical ties.”

A senior Taliban figure denied the report. “The Taliban do not need al-Qaeda any more and al-Qaeda does not rely on the Taliban,” he told the Telegraph.

America began its Afghan campaign after the Taliban refused to hand over bin Laden in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Taliban assurances they would not let Afghanistan again become a base for transnational terrorist groups like al-Qaeda underscored the landmark withdrawal deal signed between Washington and the militants in February. The deal insisted the Taliban would not host, or cooperate with groups like al-Qaeda, nor allow them to train or fundraise. In return America agreed to begin withdrawing troops.

The report instead says: “Al-Qaeda is quietly gaining strength in Afghanistan while continuing to operate with the Taliban under their protection.”

"The success of the agreement may depend upon the Taliban's willingness to encourage al-Qaeda to put a stop to its current activities in Afghanistan," the UN monitors said.

Zalmay Khalilzad, Donald Trump's chief negotiator in talks with the Taliban, said he believed the report only covered the period until March 15, about two weeks after the pact was signed, and it may take time for the Taliban to deliver.