Friday, December 3

What does the return of the Taliban mean for Al Qaeda in Afghanistan? | Afghanistan

As the Taliban prepare to rule Afghanistan after sweeping the country in less than a week, an obvious question is what this means for the future of al-Qaida and other extremist Islamist groups committed to waging a global jihad.

There is no doubt that the staggering speed of the Taliban’s victory will give a tremendous boost to Islamist extremists everywhere, be it al-Qaida, the Islamic State, fighters in Mozambique or Syria, jihadist fanboys in dormitories in Birmingham or Manila. .

Last week, UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace told Sky when asked about Afghanistan that he was “absolutely concerned that failed states are breeding grounds for such people” and that “al- Qaida will probably return. “

Wallace was right to worry about failed states (the September 11, 2001 attacks were planned and engineered by al-Qaida in Afghanistan when it was ruled by the Taliban), but he was wrong about the group making some kind of comeback. Al-Qaida is already there.

Just last month, the UN released an assessment based on intelligence received from member states indicating that al-Qaida “It is present in at least 15 Afghan provinces” and al-Qaida in the Indian subcontinent, a subsidiary of the group, “operates under the protection of the Taliban in Kandahar, Helmand and Nimruz provinces.” Al-Qaida media celebrates the seemingly frequent operations of its fighters in Afghanistan.

This was always a problem for the Biden administration, and one that it tried to ignore. As part of last year’s agreement with the United States, the Taliban pledged not to allow the training, fundraising or recruitment of “terrorists, including al-Qaida, who threaten the security of the United States and our allies.” Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, told Congress in May that the Taliban have “made substantial progress” in meeting these commitments. But even if that was true then, and it probably wasn’t, now all bets are off.

It is unclear what attitude the Taliban will take towards Al Qaeda or the other Islamist extremists engaged in transnational campaigns of violence based in Afghanistan. It is also unclear how al Qaeda will react to recent events.

The defeat of the Afghan mujahideen by the Soviets in 1989 became a fundamental myth that contributed significantly to the rise of the entire contemporary global jihadist movement, although al-Qaida actually played a negligible role in the war. The defeat of a second superpower by a new gang of Afghan Islamic fighters it’s a massive propaganda coup at a time when all of these groups urgently need a new narrative. Al-Qaida, like everyone else, will be emboldened, but to do what exactly?

One of the many reasons for America’s failures in Afghanistan was the inability in the early years of the conflict there to distinguish between al-Qaida, a small group of largely Arab Islamists committed to the overthrow of regimes in the Middle East, as well as a war against Israel and the West, and the Taliban, a reactionary Afghan movement with a strong local ethnic and nationalist element that aimed to impose a rigorous religious rule in a single country.

Relations between the Taliban, which contains many different factions, and al-Qaida have evolved dramatically since then. Sometimes these have been rebellious, but increasingly the opposite. Over the decades, personal relationships and family ties have been forged. The leaders of other militant networks have acted as intermediaries. Some priorities still differ, but the Taliban are much more globally aware than they were 20 years ago, which means they share elements of the Al Qaeda worldview in new and important ways. The US intelligence services have characterized the relationship as “close.”

But the victorious Taliban will also seek international legitimacy. They did it when they were in power before, and they will do it again. The question is from whom and what compromises the Taliban leaders might be willing to make to achieve this.

A key factor in the relationship with al-Qaida may be the strategic shift implemented by Ayman al-Zawahiri when the veteran Egyptian militant assumed leadership of the group after the death of Osama bin Laden in 2011 in a US raid on a compound in Pakistan. .

Defense Secretary Ben Wallace worries that Afghanistan will become a 'breeding ground' for extremists
Defense Secretary Ben Wallace worries that Afghanistan will become a “breeding ground” for extremists. Photograph: Jeff Overs / BBC / PA

Al-Zawahiri launched long-range attacks against the “far enemy” in the west and instead has sought to gain support and legitimacy in unstable and conflict-ravaged parts of the Islamic world where he believes there are opportunities for expansion and the “enemy. near”. ”From local regimes you can fight better. Rather than flying planes to American cities, al-Qaida has sought to build a reputation for competent governance and protection of communities that feel marginalized or threatened. This will make it easier for the Taliban, who have not been directly blamed for any international terrorism and do not want to be, to maintain their current de facto alliance with the group.

But al-Zawahiri is very ill, Western security and other officials claim, and there is no guarantee that his strategy will survive his death or recent events in Afghanistan. The opportunities provided by the combination of a ramshackle Taliban-led Afghanistan, a defeat for the United States at the hands of an Islamist militia, a Middle East that has suffered two decades of polarizing and radicalizing violence, and the unprecedented spread of extremist jihadist ideologies to all. The corners of the world will be apparent not only to any successor to al-Zawahiri but to everyone. Even if Al Qaeda does not try to take advantage of these new circumstances, others will. They may try with the support of the rulers of Afghanistan or against their express will, but they will try.

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