The Taliban have maintained a close relationship with Al Qaeda despite having pledged to stop cooperating with terrorist groups, permitting the militants to conduct training in Afghanistan and deploy fighters alongside its forces, according to the head of a UN panel monitoring the militant group.
“There is still clearly a close relationship between Al Qaeda and the Taliban,” said Edmund Fitton-Brown, the coordinator of the UN panel responsible for tracking the Taliban and terrorist groups in Afghanistan, NBC News reported.
“We believe that the top leadership of Al Qaeda is still under Taliban protection,” he said.
In a deal with the United States signed nearly a year ago, the Taliban had promised that they will not cooperate with terrorist groups. The new US administration is reviewing the deal which envisages full foreign troops withdrawal by May.
NATO defense ministers are also expected to discuss their mission in Afghanistan on Thursday.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Monday that the Taliban needed to make good on its commitments under the 2020 agreement to open the way for a full withdrawal of foreign troops.
“We see that there is still a need for the Taliban to do more when it comes to delivering on their commitments … to make sure that they break all ties with international terrorists,” Stoltenberg said.
The Taliban contend that there are no foreign fighters in Afghanistan and that members of Al Qaeda fled the country after the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent US-led intervention.
Two Taliban commanders in Afghanistan acknowledged the presence of foreign fighters, but told NBC News that they had made it mandatory that all foreign militants, including members of Al Qaeda, not plan or execute any terrorist attack against the US.
“It was quite before the Doha accord that we had drafted rules for the all ‘foreign guests’ staying in Afghanistan. Those who wanted to return to their native countries, we helped them,” a commander based in the southern province of Helmand province said.
The militants were originally from countries like Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, China, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the commander said.
“None of them can operate separately,” he added.
Fitton-Brown conducts training in Taliban-controlled areas.
“We understand that they do deploy alongside Taliban troops in certain theaters. Whether they make any decisive difference in those theaters, I could not assess,” he said.