Taliban has kept up a close relationship with Al-Qaeda despite having pledged to stop cooperating with the group, according to the head of a UN panel monitoring the insurgency reported by NBC news.
"We believe that the top leadership of Al-Qaeda is still under Taliban protection," said the head of the UNB panel that tracks terrorist groups in Afghanistan.
The Taliban's association with Al-Qaeda has continued even though the Taliban signed an agreement with the US a year ago that bans cooperation with or hosting of groups — and despite a public statement by Trump administration Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that the Taliban had "made the break with terrorist groups.”
"There is still clearly a close relationship between Al Qaeda and the Taliban," said Edmund Fitton-Brown, the coordinator of the UN panel responsible for tracking the Taliban and terrorist groups in Afghanistan.
The reports of the UN Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team are based in part on information shared by foreign governments' intelligence services.
"We believe that the top leadership of Al Qaeda is still under Taliban protection," he said.
According to the UN monitoring team's last report in January, there are 200 to 500 Al-Qaeda fighters across about 11 Afghan provinces.
Experts say untangling two groups that have lived and fought alongside each other for decades — and have even intermarried — will be difficult.
US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan in a telephonic conversation with his Afghan counterpart Hamdullah Mohib on Jan. 22 said the Biden administration would review the Trump administration's February 2020 US-Taliban agreement, the White House said in a press release.
There are 2,500 troops left in Afghanistan, and the agreement between the Taliban and former US President Trump stipulated that all of them should be removed by May 2021.
Early February, Republican US Senator Lindsey Graham in an interview with CBS has said that the American troops will not leave Afghanistan in May, supporting the Biden administration's stance on Afghanistan and its bid to review the US-Taliban agreement.
“I'm very pleased with what the Biden administration is proposing for Afghanistan. We're going to keep troops there on a conditions-based approach,” Graham said.
In response to a question that will the US troops leave Afghanistan post may, Graham said, “I think we're not going to leave in May. We're going to leave when the conditions are right. The the Taliban have been cheating. They haven't been complying. And so I like what Secretary Blinken and the Biden administration is doing.”
“They're reevaluating our presence in Afghanistan to keep the footprint low, but not to walk away and lose all the gains we've achieved,” Graham said. “If we leave too soon without a conditions-based withdrawal, Daesh and al-Qaeda will come roaring back. Women will suffer greatly. So they're in a good spot, I think, on Afghanistan.”
NATO not leaving before 'time is right'
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in a pre-ministerial press conference on Monday reiterated that the presence of the alliance’s troops in Afghanistan is "conditions-based," saying “we will not leave before the time is right.”
“Our common goal is clear. Afghanistan should never again serve as a haven for terrorists to attack our homelands. So, our presence is conditions-based,” Stoltenberg said. While no ally wants to stay in Afghanistan longer than necessary, we will not leave before the time is right.”
He said that NATO has significantly adjusted its presence as part of the Afghan peace process, but added:
“However, peace talks remain fragile and the level of violence remains unacceptably high, including the Taliban attacks on civilians. The Taliban must reduce violence, negotiate in good faith and live up to their commitment to stop cooperating with international terrorist groups,” he said.
NATO strongly supports the peace process in Afghanistan, Stoltenberg said, adding that “this is the best chance for a lasting political solution.”
He said NATO defense ministers will continue to assess the situation on the ground in Afghanistan and monitor developments very closely.
“We will continue to take more measures to ensure the safety of our troops and consider next steps in a deliberate and coordinated way,” he said.
Stoltenberg reiterated that NATO’s priority is that Afghanistan does not become a safe haven for terrorists once again.
Taliban’s open letter to US people
In an open letter to the American public, the Taliban’s leader Mullah Abdullah Abdul Ghani Baradar urged the United States to abide by its commitments to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan in accordance with the US-Taliban peace deal signed between the two sides in Doha last February.
The Taliban senior leader has also said that the group is committed to act upon the US-Taliban peace agreement, stating that he is confident that the Afghans will finally agree on an Islamic system and sustainable peace and security through a political settlement.
“We are fully confident that the Afghans themselves can achieve the establishment of an Islamic government and enduring peace and security through intra-Afghan dialogue,” an excerpt from the letter says.
“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is sincerely committed to finding a political solution to the ongoing conflict and therefore, took the initiative by opening a political office in the nation of Qatar towards this end,” the letter reads.
Why have the talks stalled?
“The Doha meeting is losing its importance because of the review that is expected to occur in the US-Taliban agreement,” said Faiz Mohammad Zaland, a university lecturer.
However, members of the peace negotiating team representing the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in the talks with the Taliban have said that they are in touch with the international community and countries involved in the peace process in Afghanistan.
“The approach that convinced the Taliban is that they have said that the emirate system will return—and the Americans are serious about leaving—so what is the need for talks?" said Bek.
“The delegation of the Islamic republic of Afghanistan is continuing its consultations with the international community and international organizations,” said Ghulam Farooq Majroh, a member of the peace negotiating team, representing the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in the talks with the Taliban.
Based on the US-Taliban agreement, the US forces must leave the country until the end of May.
But the Afghan government has said that currently the conditions are not suitable for the complete withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan.