Senior al-Qaeda member's public return to Nangarhar underscores worries

By Hamza

A Taliban fighter stands guard as the sun sets in Kabul September 12. [Karim Sahib/AFP]

A Taliban fighter stands guard as the sun sets in Kabul September 12. [Karim Sahib/AFP]

KABUL -- The public return of a top al-Qaeda member to his hometown in Afghanistan and the presence of al-Qaeda fighters fighting alongside the Taliban are evidence of strong and continuing ties between the two groups, say analysts.

Osama bin Laden's former security chief Amin-ul-Haq was seen on video returning to his home in Nangarhar province accompanied by Taliban fighters, the Long War Journal blog reported August 30.

Ul-Haq, who was believed to have been detained in Pakistan in 2008, reportedly was released in 2011 and disappeared until emerging in the recent video.

The video of ul-Haq, which was shared on Twitter, "is evidence that al-Qaeda commanders now feel secure enough to appear publicly in a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan", the journal said.

Meanwhile, al-Qaeda members were present fighting alongside the Taliban in their assault earlier this month on the Panjshir Valley, the last stronghold of resistance to the movement.

The Taliban on September 6 claimed it had seized control of the valley.

"The current situation is dire. We are under attack by the Taliban and its allies: al-Qaeda and other terrorists in the region," Amrullah Saleh, former first vice president and one of the leaders of the National Resistance Front, said in a video published on September 3.

Earlier this year, Afghan forces in May killed 30 al-Qaeda members fighting alongside the Taliban in Helmand province, while in April a senior al-Qaeda leader was killed along with a top Taliban commander in Paktika.

These are only the latest examples of a long track record of the close and ongoing working relationship between Taliban and al-Qaeda.

Close ties with al-Qaeda

"The al-Qaeda network has vast financial resources. The Taliban have benefited from al-Qaeda's financial and logistical support in the past, as they are doing now," said Ahmad Sayeedi, a Herat-based political analyst.

"The Taliban in general and the Haqqani Network in particular have very close ties with al-Qaeda," Sayeedi said. "Given the deep ties that have existed between the two groups over the years, the Taliban cannot oust al-Qaeda members from its ranks."

"Although the Taliban deny their relations with al-Qaeda, al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri has pledged allegiance to [Taliban leader] Mullah Haibatullah [Akhundzada]. Meanwhile, hundreds of al-Qaeda militants are currently fighting alongside the Taliban," he said.

The Taliban were able to regain control of Afghanistan with al-Qaeda's help, said Wais Nasery, an Afghan analyst based in Germany.

"The Taliban and al-Qaeda have ideological and strategic ties, which were never severed," Nasery told Salaam Times. "The Taliban have taken over Afghanistan with direct support from al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups."

Now that Afghanistan has fallen and the Taliban have gained control, al-Qaeda leadership and its political, military, and ideological centres will return to Afghanistan, he added.

An instance of proof of al-Qaeda's return to Afghanistan is the arrival of Amin-ul-Haq, Osama bin Laden's former security chief, in Nangarhar, Nasery said.

"With the Taliban's victory, Afghanistan has once again become the centre of al-Qaeda and terrorism, which is a major threat for the region and the world," he said.

Facilitating al-Qaeda's return

"The presence of Arabic-speaking al-Qaeda militants in the ranks of Taliban fighters who attacked Panjshir, as well as the presence of a key al-Qaeda member in Nangarhar -- video clips of which I and all Afghans saw, proved to us that the Taliban and al-Qaeda work together," said Fahim Chakari, a lecturer at Kardan University in Kabul.

"The Taliban have facilitated al-Qaeda's return to Afghanistan," he said.

Both al-Qaeda and the Taliban are trying to keep their tight relationship quiet, according to Barna Salehi, a political analyst in Kabul.

"Right now, the Taliban need to gain international recognition, so they don't want to be associated with al-Qaeda, which is a terrorist organisation," said Salehi.

Although al-Qaeda in Yemen congratulated the Taliban on their victory, neither the Taliban nor al-Qaeda wants their ties to be highlighted, he said.

They are proceeding cautiously and to minimise their vulnerability vis-a-vis the United States, said Salehi.

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