Afghanistan:  The Taliban Almost Certainly Continues Alliance with Al Qaeda after Agreement for U.S. Withdrawal

Key Judgements:

▪          We assess that the Taliban almost certainly is continuing its alliance with Al Qaeda

▪          We assess that this alliance means almost certainly that the United States cannot trust the Taliban to constrain Al Qaeda to not threaten the United States and its global interests

We assess that the Taliban almost certainly is continuing its alliance with Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda and the Taliban have a multi-decade history or mutual cooperation.  Al Qaeda’s leadership have re-sworn loyalty to Mullah Akhunzada, the leader of the Taliban.

  • Taliban leadership and Al Qaeda leadership have been found together recently in the same hiding places in Afghanistan.[1]
  • The second in command of the Taliban, Sirajuddin Haqqani, is a very close associate of Ayman al Zawihiri, the leader of Al Qaeda.  Haqqani is taking an increasingly central role in the organization and may be the group’s de facto leader at this point.[2]
  • Al Qaeda training camps continue to operate in areas of Afghanistan under Talban control.[3]
  • The Taliban leadership continues to extol Al Qaeda in its propaganda.[4]

We assess that this alliance means almost certainly that the United States cannot trust the Taliban to constrain Al Qaeda to not threaten the United States and its global interests.

  • Al Qaeda has made clear its continued intent to strike the United States.[5]
  • The Taliban has promised in the past to constrain Al Qaeda and has done no such thing.[6]
  • The primary, immediate goal of the Taliban is to guarantee a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan that will likely precipitate a fall of the government in Kabul and eventual Taliban return to power.  Promising the United States that the Taliban will not allow terrorism to emanate from Afghanistan is an instrumental promise to the U.S. that is not supported by the facts on the ground.[7]
  • While the Taliban has no desire to attack the continental United States, it also will not make serious efforts to prevent Al Qaeda from doing that.[8]

This brief was prepared by Karl Kaltenthaler

Source Summary Statement: [We have high confidence in our analytic judgments.  We have medium confidence in the sources used in this analysis.  The Taliban is not a completely unified organization.  Some of the reporting for this assessment may be more accurate for some elements of the Taliban than others.]

[1] Bill Roggio “Taliban secured release of wife of senior AQIS leader” The Long War Journal  11 September 2020

[2] Lynne O’Donnel and Marwais Khan“Leader of Afghan Taliban Said to Be Gravely Ill with the Coronavirus”  Foreign Policy

1 June 2020

[3] United Nations. “Eleventh report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team submitted pursuant to resolution 2501 (2019) concerning the Taliban and other associated individuals and entities constituting a threat to the peace, stability and security of Afghanistan” 27 May 2020 27 May 2020

[4] Saurav Sarkar “The Taliban and al-Qaeda: Enduring Partnership or Liability?” The Diplomat. 16 June 2020

[5] “U.S. Report: ISIS and Al Qaeda Threats in 2019” Wilson Center. 30 June 2020

[6] Bill Roggio Taliban again denies Al Qaeda is in Afghanistan The Long War Journal

7 July 2020

[7]“Taliban, Al Qaeda Retain Ties Despite U.S.-Taliban Deal, U.N. Monitors Say” Reuters. 1 June 2020

[8] Catherine Putz “ UN Report: Taliban Maintains Ties to Al-Qaeda” The Diplomat

2 June 2020

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