September 10, 2021 | FDD Fact Sheet

Twenty Years after 9/11, Taliban and al-Qaeda Remain Inseparable

September 10, 2021 | FDD Fact Sheet

Twenty Years after 9/11, Taliban and al-Qaeda Remain Inseparable

The relationship between the Taliban and al-Qaeda remains as close as it was on September 11, 2001. The Taliban provided safe havens for al-Qaeda as it planned and prepared for the 9/11 attacks, and al-Qaeda remains in Afghanistan today with the Taliban’s full support. Claims that al-Qaeda is “gone” from Afghanistan are simply false. The 10 critical facts below show the depth of the relationship between the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

1. Ayman al-Zawahiri, the global leader of al-Qaeda, has sworn an oath of allegiance to the Taliban’s current emir, Hibatullah Akhundzada. Osama bin Laden first swore his fealty to the Taliban’s founder, Mullah Omar, prior to 9/11. The Taliban have never renounced al-Qaeda’s sacred pledge.

2. Al-Qaeda has an active presence in at least 15 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, according to a report published by the UN Security Council in June. This information is consistent with al-Qaeda’s own reporting and other official sources. For instance, the U.S. Treasury Department warned in January that al-Qaeda has been “gaining strength in Afghanistan while continuing to operate with the Taliban under the Taliban’s protection.” Al-Qaeda has a “network of mentors and advisers who are embedded with the Taliban, providing advice, guidance, and financial support.”

3. The Haqqani Network is a U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization that is an integral part of the Taliban and has been al-Qaeda’s closest ally since the 1980s. Sirajuddin Haqqani, the network’s leader, is the Taliban’s new interior minister and has served as their deputy emir since 2015. Sirajuddin has worked closely with al-Qaeda for years. A recent UN report identified him as a member of the “wider Al-Qaida leadership.”

4. Many of the jihadists the Taliban named as cabinet ministers this month have been sanctioned by the United Nations for their ties to terrorism. Others are U.S.-designated terrorists. Multiple members of the Taliban’s newly installed regime have worked with al-Qaeda.

5. Between 1996 and 2001, the Taliban rejected more than 30 demands by the United States and United Nations to turn over Osama bin Laden. After the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, al-Qaeda’s deadliest attacks prior to 9/11, Taliban Foreign Minister Hassan Akhund rejected a UN ultimatum. “We will never give up Osama at any price,” Akhund said. Today, Akhund is the Taliban’s “head of state.” Mullah Omar, the Taliban’s founder, refused to turn over bin Laden even after the 9/11 hijackings.

6. The Taliban continue to blame America for the 9/11 hijackings and have never admitted al-Qaeda’s culpability. In a video aired on Afghan national television earlier this month, the Taliban celebrated their own suicide squads while claiming the deadliest terrorist attack in history was caused by American “policy.”

7. In 2014, Ayman al-Zawahiri announced the formation of a new branch of his global network, al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS). AQIS was established to help the Taliban resurrect their Islamic Emirate and export terrorism throughout the region. At a minimum, hundreds of AQIS fighters helped the Taliban win the war. In 2015, U.S. and Afghan forces raided two massive AQIS training camps in southern Afghanistan. One of the camps was 30 square miles in size, making it “probably the largest” al-Qaeda training facility detected during the war.

8. Al-Qaeda’s leadership maintained a presence in Taliban-controlled areas of Afghanistan throughout the war. In October 2020, one of al-Qaeda’s most senior leaders, Husam Abd-al-Ra’uf, was killed during a counterterrorism raid in a Taliban-controlled village in Ghazni province. In September 2019, Asim Umar, the first emir of AQIS, was killed in a Taliban stronghold in Helmand. According to a report published by the UN Security Council, a “significant part” of al-Qaeda’s “leadership remains based in the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan,” with Afghanistan considered a “safe haven.

9. Other al-Qaeda-affiliated groups, such as Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), helped the Taliban topple the government in Kabul. The TTP are a U.S.-designated terrorist organization, maintain a large base of operations in Afghanistan, and are openly loyal to the Afghan Taliban. The TTP conducted the failed May 1, 2010, bombing in Times Square, New York City, and carry out near-daily attacks in Pakistan.

10. Al-Qaeda’s senior leadership praised the Taliban’s return to power as a “historic victory,” arguing that Muslims around the world should support the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Dozens of other al-Qaeda groups and like-minded individuals heralded the Taliban’s victory as a boon for the global jihadist movement.


Afghanistan Al Qaeda Jihadism The Long War