The Taliban has said they are investigating what they described as “claims” that Al Qaeda chief Ayman al Zawahiri was killed in a US drone strike in the Afghan capital.
Thursday's statement marked the first time the Taliban addressed Sunday's drone strike that killed the head of the Al Qaida network on the balcony of a Kabul safe house that US officials said was linked to a Taliban leader.
However, the group insisted that it “has no knowledge of the arrival and residence” of Al Zawahiri in Afghanistan.
The killing of al Zawahiri has further strained relations between the Taliban and the West, as the Taliban seek an urgent infusion of cash to handle an economic catastrophe in Afghanistan especially after US froze nearly $10 billion of Afghan assets and suspended development assistance to the Taliban administration, a move that deepened the country’s macroeconomic instability and sent its economy into a downwards spiral.
The Taliban had promised in the 2020 Doha Agreement with the US that they would not harbor Al Qaeda members or those seeking to attack the US.
In Thursday's statement, the Taliban appeared to address those concerns.
They said they “ordered the detection and intelligence agencies to conduct serious and comprehensive investigations on various aspects of the mentioned event.”
The statement also contained assurances to the West, saying that “there is no danger from the territory of Afghanistan to any country including America.” It said that the Taliban want the implementation of the Doha Agreement.
The Haqqani network
The strike early Sunday shook awake Shirpur, once a district of historical buildings that were bulldozed in 2003 to make way for luxury homes for officials in Afghanistan’s Western-backed government and international aid organisations.
After the US withdrawal in August 2021, senior Taliban moved into some of the abandoned homes there. US officials have said al Zawahiri was staying at the home of a top aide to senior Taliban leader Sirajuddin Haqqani.
Haqqani is the deputy head of the Taliban, serves as interior minister in their government and heads the Haqqani network, a powerful faction within the movement.
The Haqqani network is an Afghan insurgent group, built around the family of the same name.
In the 1980s, it fought Soviet forces and over the past 20 years, it battled US-led NATO troops and the former Afghanistan government. The US government maintains a $10 million bounty on Sirajuddin Haqqani for attacks on American troops and Afghan civilians.
But the Haqqanis, from Afghanistan’s eastern Khost province, have rivals within the Taliban leadership, mostly from the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar. Some believe Sirajuddin Haqqani wants more power.
During the first half of 2022, Al Zawahiri increasingly reached out to supporters with video and audio messages, including assurances that Al Qaeda can compete with Daesh for leadership of a global movement, a report by the United Nations' Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team said.