WASHINGTON -- Al-Qaeda's regional affiliate in Afghanistan maintains close ties to the Taliban and has an "enduring interest" in attacking US and foreign troops, the Pentagon said Wednesday (July 1).
Under a peace deal the Taliban signed with the United States in February, the insurgents agreed to stop al-Qaeda from using Afghanistan as a safe haven to plot attacks.
But in the months since, the Taliban have continued to work with al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), the US Defence Department said in a report.
"AQIS routinely supports and works with low-level Taliban members in its efforts to undermine the Afghan government, and maintains an enduring interest in attacking US forces and Western targets in the region," the Pentagon's security assessment compiled for the US Congress said.
"Despite recent progress in the peace process, AQIS maintains close ties to the Taliban in Afghanistan, likely for protection and training," it added.
The report comes on the heels of a United Nations (UN) analysis released on May 27 that details the Taliban's extensive ties with al-Qaeda.
The evidence shows that the Taliban, despite pledging to turn their backs on the terrorist group, have enabled al-Qaeda to gain strength under their protection, according to the UN monitors.
"The Taliban regularly consulted with al-Qaeda during negotiations with the United States and offered guarantees that it would honour their historical ties," the report said.
"Al-Qaeda and the Taliban held meetings over the course of 2019 and in early 2020 to discuss co-operation related to operational planning, training and the provision by the Taliban of safe havens for al-Qaeda members inside Afghanistan," it said.
The Pentagon report added that any "core" al-Qaeda members still in Afghanistan are focused mainly on survival and have delegated regional leadership to AQIS.
"AQIS's interest in attacking US forces and other Western targets in Afghanistan and the region persists, but continuing coalition [counter-terrorism] pressure has reduced AQIS's ability to conduct operations in Afghanistan without the support of the Taliban," the Pentagon said.
Roadblocks to peace
The US-Taliban deal signed February 29 was supposed to lead to intra-Afghan peace talks between the insurgents and the Afghan government starting by March 10.
Afghan authorities have already freed about 3,000 Taliban inmates and plan to further release 2,000 as stipulated in the deal as a condition for intra-Afghan talks to begin.
Under the US-Taliban deal, foreign forces are supposed to withdraw from Afghanistan by next year.
So far, the United States has honoured its commitment by reducing the number of US troops in Afghanistan to about 8,600, Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, who heads US Central Command, said June 18.
However, "conditions would have to be met that satisfy us -- that attacks against our homeland are not going to be generated from Afghanistan," he added.
"What we need to see is what they're going to do against al-Qaeda," McKenzie said.
The Taliban on June 19 said it was committed to the February deal, "especially the US's and the West's concern about a threat to them from Afghanistan".
"Our country will not be used against anyone. They should not be concerned," Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid told AFP.
But the escalation of Taliban violence following the signing of the peace accord is an example of the group's empty promises, Afghan authorities and security analysts say.
"Maintaining ties with al-Qaeda shows that the Taliban are not committed to any agreement that would lead to peace and stability in Afghanistan," said Daud Kalakani, a former member of the Wolesi Jirga from Kabul.
The violence unleashed by the Taliban is "running against the spirit of commitment for peace", President Ashraf Ghani told the cabinet on June 22.