The future appears uncertain for Afghanistan following its takeover by the Taliban as US-led forces withdrew from the country after 20 years of occupation. As other nations continue to evacuate their citizens, the Central Asian country has been struck by political and humanitarian crises.
Taliban Spokesman Dismisses Reports That Militants are Sheltering al-Qaeda's Leader in Afghanistan
10:51 GMT 13.09.2021 (Updated: 11:47 GMT 13.09.2021)
The Taliban* established de-facto control over almost all of Afghanistan last month after the collapse of the Western-backed Kabul government. The militants have promised Russia, the United States and other countries that they would not allow al-Qaeda* and other terrorist groups to operate in territories under their control.
Reports that al-Qaeda Number One Ayman al-Zawahiri is being harboured by the Taliban are untrue, Mohammad Naim, a spokesman for the militant movement, has told Sputnik.
"This is a lie. It has nothing to do with the truth," Naim said.
On Sunday, Michael Morell, an intelligence analyst who served as Barack Obama's CIA director between 2011 and 2013, told CBS' Face the Nation that US intelligence believes Zawahiri is living in Afghanistan.
"We think so, which means that the Taliban is harbouring Zawahiri today. The Taliban is harbouring al-Qaeda today. And I think that's a very important point," Morell said. The retired CIA chief did not elaborate on the allegation.
Over the weekend, Zawahiri was reportedly spotted in a video released on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks. Intelligence analysts speculated that the footage is not necessarily recent, and could been filmed anytime since February 2020 and the signing of the US-Taliban agreement in Doha on the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan.
Rumours that the 70-year-old terror leader had died began circulating in November. However, intelligence agencies in the US and other countries have provided no solid proof that he was deceased.
Zawahiri served as al-Qaeda's number two for decades under Osama bin Laden. After bin Laden's alleged liquidation in a US Navy SEAL raid in Pakistan, Zawahiri became leader of the terrorist group.
Al-Qaeda and its international terrorist activities became overshadowed by the rise of Daesh (ISIS)* in the mid-2010s and the latter group's creation of a 'caliphate' across wide swathes of Syria and Afghanistan. Between 2014 and 2017, an unlikely coalition of forces including Syria, Lebanon's Hezbollah, Russia and Iran and the US, Iraq and Baghdad-allied Shiite militias fought to liquidate Daesh's 'caliphate'.
Syria, Iran, Hezbollah, the Russian military and other nations and actors fighting jihadist extremism have repeatedly accused the US, its Gulf nations, and other powers of cooperating with or otherwise supporting terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda and its rebranded Syrian branch, 'Tahrir al-Sham'. Earlier this year, Jim Jeffrey, the former Trump envoy for the Western coalition against Daesh who bragged about lying to the president about the true size of the US military footprint in Syria, openly admitted that the US considered Tahrir al-Sham as "an asset" to Washington's current strategy in the war-torn country.
In Afghanistan, Taliban officials and emissaries have repeatedly promised not to allow al-Qaeda fighters and other foreign terrorists to take refuge in areas under their control. The commitment not to shelter al-Qaeda was one of the terms of the US-Taliban peace deal in Doha in February 2020, which ultimately culminated in last month's chaotic withdrawal of Western forces from Afghanistan.
Despite its commitments, the Taliban continues to maintain that the US has yet to provide it with firm evidence that Osama bin Laden was behind the 9/11 attacks - which served as the formal pretext for the US invasion and 19+ year occupation of Afghanistan.
26 August, 11:50 GMT
* Terrorist groups outlawed in Russia and many other countries.