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

Aug 2, 2022, 2:40 AM | Updated: Aug 3, 2022, 1:11 am
FILE - In this 1998 file photo made available Friday, March 19, 2004, Ayman al-Zawahri, left, liste...

FILE - In this 1998 file photo made available Friday, March 19, 2004, Ayman al-Zawahri, left, listens during a news conference with Osama bin Laden in Khost, Afghanistan. A U.S. airstrike has killed al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri in Afghanistan, according to a person familiar with the matter. President Joe Biden will speak about the operation on Monday night, Aug. 1, 2022, from the White House. (AP Photo/Mazhar Ali Khan, File)

(AP Photo/Mazhar Ali Khan, File)

ISLAMABAD (AP) — The U.S. drone strike that killed al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri on the balcony of a Kabul safe house intensified global scrutiny Tuesday of Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers and further undermined their efforts to secure international recognition and desperately needed aid.

The Taliban had promised in the 2020 Doha Agreement on the terms of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan that they would not harbor al-Qaida members or those seeking to attack the U.S.

Yet a mastermind of the 9/11 terror attacks, who has called for striking the United States in numerous video messages in recent years, lived for months apparently sheltered by senior Taliban figures.

The safe house where al-Zawahri was staying in Kabul’s upscale Shirpur neighborhood was the home of a top aide to senior Taliban leader Sirajuddin Haqqani, according to a senior U.S. intelligence official. Haqqani is deputy head of the Taliban, serves as interior minister in its government and heads the Haqqani network, a powerful faction within the movement.

Still, there have been persistent reports of unease among Taliban leadership, particularly tensions between the Haqqani network and rivals within the movement.

The Taliban initially sought to describe the strike as America violating the Doha deal, in which the U.S. committed not to attack the group. The Taliban have yet to say who was killed in the strike.

“The killing of Ayman al-Zawahri has raised many questions,” said one Pakistani intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to The Associated Press as he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly to reporters. Al-Zawahri took over as al-Qaida’s leader after Osama bin Laden was killed in Pakistan in 2011, in an operation by U.S. Navy SEALs.

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

Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry issued a very carefully worded statement, which referred to a “counter-terrorism operation by the United States in Afghanistan” but did not mention al-Zawahri. “Pakistan condemns terrorism in all its forms and manifestations,” it said. Pakistan has been lobbying for the world to give greater recognition and support to the Taliban government.

The strike early Sunday shook awake Shirpur, once a district of historic buildings that were bulldozed in 2003 to make way for luxury homes for officials in Afghanistan’s Western-backed government and international aid organizations. After the U.S. withdrawal in August 2021, senior Taliban moved into some of the abandoned homes there.

The targeted safe house is only a few blocks from the British Embassy, which has been closed since the Taliban takeover in August. Taliban officials blocked AP journalists in Kabul from reaching the damaged house on Tuesday.

The U.N. Security Council was informed by monitors of militant groups in July that al-Qaida enjoys greater freedom in Afghanistan under the Taliban but confines itself to advising and supporting the country’s new rulers.

A report by the monitors said the two groups remain close and that al-Qaida fighters, estimated to number between 180 to 400, are represented “at the individual level” among Taliban combat units.

The monitors said it’s unlikely al-Qaida will seek to mount direct attacks outside Afghanistan, “owing to a lack of capability and restraint on the part of the Taliban, as well as an unwillingness to jeopardize their recent gains” such as having a safe haven and improved resources.

During the first half of 2022, al-Zawahri increasingly reached out to supporters with video and audio messages, including assurances that al-Qaida can compete with the Islamic State group for leadership of a global movement, the report by the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team said.

IS militants have emerged as a major threat to the Taliban over the past year, carrying out a series of deadly attacks against Taliban targets and civilians.

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 battled U.S.-led NATO troops and the former Afghanistan government. The U.S. government maintains a $10 million bounty on Serajjudin Haqqani for attacks on American troops and Afghan civilians.

But the Haqqanis, from Afghanistan’s eastern Khost province, have rivals within the Taliban leadership, mostly from the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar. Some believe Sirajuddin Haqqani wants more power. Other Taliban figures have opposed the Haqqanis’ attacks against civilians in Kabul and elsewhere during the insurgency.

Jerome Drevon, the International Crisis Group’s senior analyst studying Islamist militant groups, said the tensions are focused on how to direct the new regime — “how to share power … who gets what position, who gets to control what ministries, to decide the general policies and so on.”

The timing of the strike also couldn’t come at a worse time politically for the Taliban. The militants face international condemnation for refusing to reopen schools for girls above the sixth grade, despite earlier promises. The United Nations mission to Afghanistan also criticized the Taliban for human rights abuses under their rule.

The U.S. and its allies have cut off billions in development funds that kept the government afloat in part over the abuses, as well as froze billions in Afghan national assets.

This sent the already shattered economy into free fall, increasing poverty dramatically and creating one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. Millions, struggling to feed their families, are kept alive by a massive U.N.-led relief effort.

The Taliban have been trying to reopen the taps to that aid and their reserves. However, al-Zawahri’s killing already has been seized upon by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken as a sign that the Taliban “grossly violated the Doha Agreement and repeated assurances … that they would not allow Afghan territory to be used by terrorists to threaten the security of other countries.”

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid alleged the U.S. violated the Doha Agreement by launching the strike. Afghanistan’s state-run television channel — now under the Taliban — reported that President Joe Biden said al-Zawahri had been killed.

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

Al-Zawahri’s death coincided with the 32nd anniversary of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait — creating a sort of a bookend to al-Qaida’s era of militancy. Saddam’s invasion prompted the U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia, which in turn was one factor that drove bin Laden to turn his guns on America, culminating in the 9/11 attacks.

___

Associated Press writers Jon Gambrell and Isabel DeBre in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

FILE - Wild horses that were captured from U.S. rangeland stand in a holding pen, at the U.S. Burea...
Associated Press

Biggest US holding pen planned for wild horses faces suit

RENO, Nev. (AP) — Advocates for wild horses are accusing federal land managers of illegally approving plans for the largest U.S. holding facility for thousands of mustangs captured on public rangeland in 10 Western states. Friends of Animals said in a lawsuit filed Tuesday up to 4,000 horses would be held captive inhumanely for months […]
19 hours ago
FILE - Japanese fashion designer Hanae Mori, center, is applauded by models after the presentation ...
Associated Press

Hanae Mori, designer for films, empress, dies, reports say

TOKYO (AP) — Designer Hanae Mori, known for her elegant signature butterfly motifs, numerous cinema fashions and the wedding gown of a future Japanese empress, has died, local media reported Thursday. She was 96. Mori symbolized the rise of Japan as a modern, fashionable nation and the rise of the working woman. The media reports […]
19 hours ago
Former Vice President Mike Pence gestures during the "Politics and Eggs" breakfast gathering, Wedne...
Associated Press

Pence tells GOP to stop lashing out at FBI over Trump search

MANCHESTER, N.H. (AP) — Former Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday implored fellow Republicans to stop lashing out at the FBI over the search of Donald Trump’s Florida home and denounced calls by some of the former president’s allies to defund the FBI, saying that was “just as wrong” as a push by Democratic activists […]
19 hours ago
Associated Press

Police: Man who broke into Wisconsin home wanted a bath

CHIPPEWA FALLS, Wis. (AP) — A Minnesota man who allegedly broke into an occupied Wisconsin home last week and locked himself in a bathroom never had a chance to come clean. He was getting ready to take a bath when authorities arrived. Authorities say the 29-year-old St. Paul, Minnesota man was filling up the tub […]
19 hours ago
FILE - Allen Weisselberg, right, stands behind then President-elect Donald Trump during a news conf...
Associated Press

Trump Org. CFO to plead guilty, testify against company

NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump’s chief financial officer is expected to plead guilty to tax violations Thursday in a deal that would require him to testify about illicit business practices at the former president’s company, two people familiar with the matter told The Associated Press. Allen Weisselberg is charged with taking more than $1.7 […]
19 hours ago
FILE - This Aug. 8, 2022, still image taken from officer video provided by the Albuquerque Police D...
Associated Press

Suspect in New Mexico Muslim killings detained pending trial

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — An Afghan refugee charged in the shooting deaths of two Muslim men and suspected in the killing of two others was ordered held without bond pending trial as prosecutors argued Wednesday that he was a danger to his own family and the greater community. Prosecutors during a detention hearing pointed to […]
19 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Ways to prevent clogged drains and what to do if you’re too late

While there are a variety of ways to prevent clogged drains, it's equally as important to know what to do when you're already too late.
...
Dr. Richard Carmona

Great news: Children under 5 can now get COVID-19 vaccine

After more than two years of battle with an invisible killer, we can now vaccinate the youngest among us against COVID-19. This is great news.
...
Carla Berg, MHS, Deputy Director, Public Health Services, Arizona Department of Health Services

Vaccines are safe if you are pregnant or breastfeeding

Are you pregnant? Do you have a friend or loved one who’s expecting?
Taliban under scrutiny as US kills al-Qaida leader in Kabul