Center for Strategic Communication

The Afghan Taliban’s official spokesman issued a statement rejecting a media report that the group seeks to sever ties with al Qaeda.

Zabihullah Mujahid, the official spokesman for the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,” issued the statement earlier today in the Pashtu language section on the Taliban’s website, Voice of Jihad. A translation of the statement was obtained by The Long War Journal. Zabihullah said that a report in Asharq Alawsat, which summarized an article in Financial Times claiming that former Taliban officials said the group was willing to cut ties with al Qaeda, was not confirmed or sanctioned.

“It is clear that publishing such a report attributed to a few unknown former and current officials of the Islamic Emirate without any confirmation by the cultural commission or an official of the Islamic Emirate is contrary to all international media principles and values,” the statement attributed to Zabihullah said.

“The Islamic Emirate makes it clear that only those people qualify to be representatives of the Islamic Emirate who will be introduced formally by the political office of the Islamic Emirate in writing to a country or a party,” the statement continued.

Zabihullah described the report as the latest in a series of articles by “some opportunist individuals and parties” who “have committed and are committing such deceitful actions for some gains.”

According to the report in Asharq Alawsat, “the discussions were held with four individuals: two former members of the Taliban government, a former Mujahidin senior commander with close links to the Taliban, and an unofficial Afghan mediator. They all stressed that the Taliban leadership has developed a strong sense of realism as a result of its experiences over the past decade, and it intends to distance itself from al-Qaeda and remove it, along with other international terrorist groups, from regions under Taliban control.”

The Asharq Alawsat report also stated that the Taliban were willing to accept the presence of US military bases and would accept the Afghan constitution.

The Afghan Taliban refused to sever ties with al Qaeda when the US insisted the Taliban do so in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 attack, and have shrugged off opportunities to denounce the al Qaeda several times since. In February of this year, Zabihullah refused to denounce “international terrorism,” a watered-down reference to al Qaeda.

Al Qaeda fought alongside the Taliban for years before the US invaded, and is still known to operate throughout Afghanistan. The International Security Assistance force has conducted raids against al Qaeda leaders and associates in Balkh, Farah, Ghazni, Helmand, Kandahar, Khost, Kunar, Kunduz, Laghman, Logar, Nangarhar, Paktia, Paktika, Sar-i-Pul, Takhar, Wardak, and Zabul, or 17 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, according to ISAF’s own press releases. Many of these raids have taken place over the past two years.

Three of the Taliban’s top four military commanders, the emirs of the regional councils, are closely linked to al Qaeda. Siraj Haqqani, Mullah Zakir, and Sheikh Mohammed Aminullah, are all closely tied to al Qaeda [see LWJ report, Taliban appoint al Qaeda-linked commander to lead Peshawar shura].

Instead of denouncing al Qaeda, Taliban commanders have reiterated the Taliban’s close ties to the terror group. Mullah Sangeen Zadran, a Haqqani Network commander who serves as the Taliban’s shadow governor of Paktika province, has said al Qaeda and the Taliban “are all one and are united by Islam.” Sangeen made his statement to As Sahab, al Qaeda’s official propaganda arm.

“We do not see any difference between Taliban and Al Qaeda, for we all belong to the religion of Islam. Sheikh Osama [bin Laden] has pledged allegiance to Amir Al-Mumineen [the Leader of the Faithful, Mullah Muhammad Omar] and has reassured his leadership again and again,” Sangeen said in 2009.

Just two days ago, Sangeen urged Turkish Muslims to join the jihad in Afghanistan. He said that after “our conquest [of Afghanistan], we will continue in our jihad and we will save the nations under oppression…[w]e will make Islam prevail in the world!”