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Drone strike killing of al-Qaeda’s Ayman al-Zawahiri offers setback to Taliban

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Days after retaking energy in Afghanistan final August, the Taliban pledged that the nation would by no means once more turn into a haven for worldwide jihadis.

“We guarantee the worldwide group, and particularly the US and neighbouring international locations, that Afghanistan won’t be used towards them,” stated the group’s spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid at a press convention after toppling the western-backed authorities.

These assurances have been upended by the revelation {that a} US drone strike killed al-Qaeda’s veteran leader Ayman al-Zawahiri at a protected home within the coronary heart of Kabul over the weekend.

The US alleges the 71-year-old Egyptian, who was believed to be sick, lived within the capital with the information of the Haqqani community, a militant Taliban faction that holds senior posts within the Afghan authorities and has longstanding ties to al-Qaeda.

The assassination marked a big blow to the Taliban, shattering the remoted regime’s efforts to build trust with overseas powers and achieve worldwide legitimacy. Washington’s means to strike solely blocks away from the Taliban’s new ministries has made its management look weak in entrance of their militant base, stated analysts.

Zawahiri’s dying additionally revealed the endurance and longevity of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Although diminished after a relentless 20-year battle, the group stays an even bigger long-term menace than Isis’s more-active Afghan offshoot, in response to the UN.

“The traditional knowledge was that al-Qaeda was finished and dusted . . . However we’ve all gotten a impolite shock. The Taliban have been internet hosting al-Qaeda’s high management very like the pre-9/11 years,” stated Asfandyar Mir, an professional on the US Institute of Peace. This implies that the Taliban “have been very dedicated to al-Qaeda and wished to guard and defend this organisation.”

It was from Taliban-ruled Afghanistan that al-Qaeda, then led by Osama bin Laden, orchestrated the September 11 assaults on the US, triggering the American-led invasion in 2001. Lots of its senior management and members continued transferring out and in of Afghanistan because the Taliban fought towards Washington’s relentless counterinsurgency marketing campaign.

Amongst them was Zawahiri, who helped discovered al-Qaeda within the late Nineteen Eighties after Arabs joined the battle to combat Russia’s occupation of Afghanistan.

He took over after the US killed bin Laden in neighbouring Pakistan in 2011. However whereas remaining the group’s figurehead, specialists stated Zawahiri appeared to have much less involvement in operations in recent times as al-Qaeda grew to become extra of an umbrella organisation, with largely autonomous associates unfold throughout Africa, South Asia and the Center East specializing in native targets quite than world jihad.

As a part of a 2020 peace deal that paved the best way for the US withdrawal, the Taliban agreed that al-Qaeda and “those that pose a menace to the safety of america and its allies don’t have any place in Afghanistan”.

But worldwide displays have repeatedly uncovered proof that al-Qaeda remained within the nation, because the Taliban appeared to attempt to present the group sanctuary whereas retaining a lid on its actions.

A report submitted to the UN Safety Council final month alleged that a whole lot of al-Qaeda operatives have been within the nation and even famous Zawahiri’s “elevated consolation and talent to speak” to members for the reason that Taliban’s takeover.

The US knew of Zawahiri’s protected home within the Kabul neighbourhood of Sherpur as early as April, in response to American officers, confirming his location via a number of sources and even recognizing him on the balcony a number of occasions. He was killed by two Hellfire missiles on Sunday.

The operation revealed Washington’s means to conduct in depth surveillance and assault the centre of the Taliban’s new capital, in a blow to the Islamist regime’s safety equipment.

“The People can discover Zawahiri, watch him for a couple of months in central Kabul, then do a drone strike,” Raffaello Pantucci, a senior fellow at Singapore’s S Rajaratnam College of Worldwide Research, stated. “That speaks to a fragmented organisation the place there’s no coherent safety.”

The Taliban, who deny understanding the whereabouts of al-Qaeda’s management, confirmed the drone strike, however haven’t commented on casualties.

Mujahid, its spokesperson, condemned the strike as “repetition of the failed experiences of the previous 20 years and towards the pursuits of the US, Afghanistan and the area”.

It additionally dealt a big setback to the Taliban’s hopes of gaining worldwide legitimacy. Since taking energy, the Taliban have stated they wish to have interaction with overseas powers, together with the west, to be able to finish crippling worldwide sanctions and revive the economy.

These efforts, already difficult by insurance policies such because the closure of women’ secondary colleges, have been severely undermined, in response to analysts.

“This makes any type of engagement with the Taliban on any difficulty extraordinarily difficult,” Mir stated. “It will be unimaginable for anybody to take the Taliban’s phrase on something from this level onwards.”

Al-Qaeda faces a succession disaster after Zawahiri’s dying, with little details about who would possibly change him.

Antonio Giustozzi, senior analysis fellow at Rusi, the London-based think-tank, stated with Isis weakened by counter-insurgency operations, there was the potential for al-Qaeda to “stage a comeback”. However that might rely upon who replaces Zawahiri in what is predicted to be a tough succession course of, he added.

Peter Neumann, professor of safety research at King’s School London, stated Saif al-Adel, an Egyptian al-Qaeda veteran, has typically been talked about as a possible successor. However he’s believed to be in Iran below a point of state surveillance.

“If you happen to transcend Adel, it’s not fully clear to me who can be who can be the following in line,” Neumann stated. “It could’t be somebody who’s 25 or 30 years previous, as a result of it must be somebody who has a type of sure seniority that’s being accepted by a few of the very completed different regional leaders.”

“In the interim they [the affiliates] are very a lot not specializing in the west,” Neumann stated. “But when circumstances change, it may very effectively, once more, turn into a menace to the west.” 

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