A ten-minute audio tape attributed to the Taliban’s Supreme Leader Hibatullah Akhundzada appeared on 30 October, the first such communication since the jihadist takeover of Afghanistan in August. Hailed as Akhundzada’s “first public appearance” or his decision to step into “the limelight”, the reality is more complicated. Continue reading
The State Department spokesman Ned Price said, on 27 August, “The Taliban and the Haqqani Network are separate entities”. The next day, the Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby slightly modulated this, having first tried to dismiss the question, by conceding there was “a certain amount of … commingling … there’s a marbling … of Taliban and Haqqani”, before saying he was “pushing back … [on] the relevance of that discussion”.
What these officials were trying to do was two-fold: (1) to refute press reports that U.S. officials in Kabul had shared “a list of names of American citizens, green card holders, and Afghan allies” with the Taliban, amounting to having “put all those Afghans on a kill list”, as one “defense official” put it; and (2) to deny that the U.S. coordination with the Taliban to evacuate people the jihadists wanted to kill—a surreal enough situation—had involved the additional political and legal problems of coordinating with a formally registered Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO), as the Haqqani Network is. Continue reading
By Oved Lobel on 1 September 2021
Below is a translation of a report by the Russian outlet Kommersant on 20 June 1997 by Oved Lobel, an analyst focused on inter alia Russia’s role in the Islamic world and who recently wrote a report on the history of Afghanistan’s war dating back to the early 1970s. The article is interesting in many respects, perhaps most of all in showing the very limited military capacity of the Taliban, intimately linked to its overwhelming unpopularity among Afghans. The article discusses some of the draconian practices of the Taliban that made it so despised, as well as its governing structure, and focuses on the situation in the summer of 1997, when the Northern Alliance broke the Taliban’s hold on Pul-i-Khumri and halted their offensive on Mazar-i-Sharif. As we now know with hindsight, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Army would rescue the Taliban from this predicament. The Pakistani role in underwriting the Taliban’s military advances is covered in the article, and this pattern of Taliban retreats that forced an escalation of Pakistani intervention was a repetitive one during the late 1990s. Ultimately, indeed, as covered in Oved’s report, the Taliban enterprise would basically crumble in 2000 and the Pakistan Army had to overtly invade to allow the jihadists to conquer Taloqan. This history remains relevant at the present. As Afghan President Ashraf Ghani told U.S. President Joe Biden three weeks before his government was overwhelmed by the Taliban on 15 August: “We are facing a full-scale invasion, composed of Taliban [with] full Pakistani planning and logistical support”. Continue reading
Al-Qaeda’s General Command released a statement earlier today through As-Sahab Media congratulating the Taliban on its victory in Afghanistan. This is the first statement from Al-Qaeda Central since the cataclysmic events in Afghanistan over the past few weeks. The official silence of the organisation heretofore—even as its operatives worked in lock-step with the rest of the coalition of jihadists run by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to conquer the country—is almost certainly deliberate, to allow the Taliban and the United States political cover to ensure the American departure while avoiding the ramifications of Al-Qaeda controlling the Afghan state, the very thing the mission in Afghanistan was intended to (and had succeeded in, so long as it was sustained) undoing. The statement itself is exactly what one would expect: gloating about the West’s defeat and the damage to American hegemony, saying this proves that jihad is the only way, and that the Taliban’s “Islamic Emirate” is merely the first step in a global campaign to bring the world under the rule of the shari’a. The text of the English-language statement is posted below, with some minor editions for transliteration and translation. Continue reading
Kabul fell to the Taliban on 15 August. There is so much more to be said about the disastrous decisions the United States that precipitated this calamity, not least the so-called peace process whose only concrete effects were to weaken and demoralise the Afghan government, while bolstering the ranks of the Taliban by forcing the release of thousands of jihadists. The chaotic Saigon scenes have testified to the incompetence of Joe Biden’s administration, even at administrative tasks, and the horrors are only just beginning.
This post has a slightly different focus, namely the role of Pakistan, specifically its military and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), as the author and operator of the Taliban and allied jihadists. This factor—absolutely fundamental to the conflict—has been, for twenty years, bizarrely absent in much of the coverage, and suggestions recur to this day that the Taliban is actually a problem for Pakistan. When the Pakistan dimension does come up, it will either be to note that Pakistan has some kind of role in funding or otherwise “supporting” the Taliban, and at its strongest the Taliban will be called a “proxy” of the ISI.
A nearly-22-minute video was released by As-Sahab, the media wing of Al-Qaeda, on 12 March 2021, entitled, “The Wound of the Rohingya is the Wound of the Umma” or “The Wound of the Rohingya is the Wound of the Islamic Nation”. More than anything actually said or presented, the video itself was the story since it comes after credible reports in November 2020 that Al-Qaeda’s emir, Ayman al-Zawahiri, had died a month earlier. The only question was whether the video would provide proof-of-life for Al-Zawahiri, and it pointedly did not. Continue reading
The so-called caliph of the Islamic State (ISIS), Ibrahim al-Badri (Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi), was killed in an American raid in Syria on 27 October, and the spokesman, Abu Hassan al-Muhajir, was killed the next day in an airstrike. ISIS acknowledged the losses and appointed new leaders on Halloween.
Abu Hamza al-Qurayshi introduced himself in a nearly-eight-minute audio statement as the new spokesman and named Abu Ibrahim al-Hashemi al-Qurayshi as Al-Baghdadi’s replacement. Little information was given about either man.
Muhammad Saladin Abd al-Halim Zaydan (Sayf al-Adel) wrote a letter on 13 June 2002 to Khalid Shaykh Muhammad (KSM or Mukhtar), the operational planner of the 9/11 massacre. Zaydan criticises KSM’s handling of al-Qaeda in the aftermath of 9/11 and the fall of the Taliban, and calls on him to surrender control to others. At that time the latter was written, Zaydan had been the head of al-Qaeda’s military committee for about seven months, replacing Muhammad Atef (Abu Hafs al-Masri), who was killed by an American airstrike in Afghanistan in November 2001. Zaydan was based then—as he is now—in Iran, with much of al-Qaeda’s senior leadership, at the invitation of Qassem Sulaymani, the head of the Quds Force, the component of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) tasked with exporting the Iran’s Islamist revolution. The letter is reproduced below with the key sections highlighted in bold.
Phrased with much surrounding politeness, Zaydan gets to the point: KSM has been on a spree of external operations—notably with “shoe bomber” Richard Reid and José Padilla (Abdullah al-Muhajir)—that have failed spectacularly and exposed al-Qaeda to ridicule. Instead of learning from his mistakes, KSM has heedlessly rushed to the next plot, says Zaydan. Usama bin Ladin might have signed off on these plots, Zaydan writes, but Bin Ladin is also reckless and refuses to heed advice—instead changing the advisor to get the answer he wants. (Bin Ladin had done this—or tried to—for the 9/11 attack itself, stacking the executive committee with loyalists before the key vote, which he ended up not bothering to hold anyway.) KSM should halt all plots currently underway and resign his duties to others so that stock can be taken of how these disasters have befallen the organisation, Zaydan concludes. Zaydan adds a final note demanding the removal of a post on an al-Qaeda forum that identifies his children by their real names. Continue reading
The new book by the investigative journalists Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark, The Exile: The Flight of Osama bin Laden, charts the career of al-Qaeda’s founder, Osama bin Laden, up to the day he became a household name—11 September 2001—through his downfall in 2011, to the end of 2016, when al-Qaeda was more powerful than ever. It is a thoroughly absorbing account, bringing to light vast tranches of new facts, including many intricate details of how al-Qaeda operated on a human, day-to-day level, and of those states and para-states that shielded the terror network, collaborated with it, and enabled it—and still do.
The gathering of the Bin Laden network in Sudan and then in the Taliban-held areas of Afghanistan in the 1990s is a familiar story, but the splits and debates among the Arab jihadists around Bin Laden, including the opposition of significant numbers of them to the 9/11 massacre, is perhaps less well known. The authors trace out how Bin Laden manipulated his own quasi-institutions to get his way. First, Bin Laden took on the plan of a man, Khalid Shaykh Muhammad (KSM), who was not even a member of al-Qaeda, and then, ahead of the crucial vote, packed the shura (consultation) council with ultra-zealous Egyptians by engineering a merger between al-Qaeda and Islamic Jihad, led by Ayman al-Zawahiri. Continue reading
The U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned Abdullah Ibrahim al-Faisal (born: Trevor William Forrest), a Jamaican cleric who supports the Islamic State (IS) on 5 December. This was long overdue. Al-Faisal’s record of disseminating jihadist ideology, and influencing and/or interacting with terrorists, goes back several decades. And since 2014, al-Faisal has been one of IS’s influential English-language propagandist-recruiters. Continue reading