Al-Qaida is once again operating out of Taliban territory in Afghanistan, 14 years after the U.S. launched Operation Enduring Freedom to strip the terror group of its safe haven.
With the support of the Taliban, al-Qaida recently moved its production team As-Sahab from Pakistan, where it had been operating since 2002. As-Sahab was moved back into the Helmand Province of Afghanistan, reported Bruce Riedel, a counter-terror expert at Brookings.
Al-Qaida chief Ayman al-Zawahiri declared his support for new Taliban leader Mullah Mansoor in a new video message this week, breaking nearly a year of silence to reaffirm the alliance between the two groups who worked together to launch the 9/11 terror attacks.
The Taliban is battling the Afghanistan government in an offensive some believe is backed by Pakistan, which is publicly pressuring al-Qaida to engage with Afghanistan officials in political talks.
The relocation of al-Qaida and message of support from al-Zawahiri makes that less likely, especially as the Taliban wages a separate battle for dominance with its terror rival, Islamic State, whose rule both the Taliban and al-Qaida have rejected.
A number of mid-level Taliban commanders defected to ISIS earlier this year, leading ISIS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to claim part of Afghanistan for the caliphate’s “Khorasan Province,” from which militants are launching attacks. (RELATED: ISIS Takes It To The Taliban In Afghanistan)
Confirmation of Omar’s death exacerbated the power struggle and exposed fissures in Taliban leadership, paving the way for more defectors to ISIS. Afghan authorities contradicted the Taliban’s report that Omar died in June, creating a credibility problem for Mansoor and halting the process of potential political talks.
Taliban militants recently attacked Afghanistan’s parliament, killing two and injuring 31, in what some foreign policy experts warn was an indication the group is trying to prove to Afghanistan and terrorist groups it is the dominant jihadi force in the area.
Al-Zawahiri didn’t mention Islamic State in his message of support for the Taliban, but made it clear al-Qaida sides with the Taliban.
“The bond between us and our Taliban brothers is a solid ideological bond,” a senior al-Qaida official told a Pakistani newspaper. “The Taliban opted to lose their government and family members just to protect us. There is not question of us moving apart now after going through this war together.”
“Our common enemy [the U.S.] does not know what is coming its way,” he added.
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