Analysis: Taliban again denies presence of foreign fighters in Afghanistan

Yet again, the Taliban has denied that foreign fighters, including members of Al Qaeda, are present in Afghanistan. The Taliban’s statement should raise deep concerns with U.S. officials about the group’s reliability to be an effective counterterrorism partner against Al Qaeda and other terror groups.

The Taliban issued its latest denial on June 6, just five days after the U.N.’s Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team said in a report that the Taliban and Al Qaeda remain allied, have consulted with each other during the Taliban’s negotiations with the U.S., and that there are thousands of foreign fighters on Afghan soil.

[See FDD’s Long War Journal reports, U.N.: Thousands of Pakistanis fight in Afghanistan alongside the Taliban and U.N.: Taliban “regularly consulted” with Al Qaeda throughout negotiations with U.S.]

In a statement released on Voice of Jihad, the Taliban called the U.N. report “fictitious” and says “there are no foreign fighters currently present in Afghanistan”:

It is very unfortunate however that a recent report published by this organizations related to presence of foreign fighters in Afghanistan and other issues are not grounded in facts. For example, the claim of large number of foreign fighters and their extensive presence throughout Afghanistan has left our compatriots baffled because the Afghans, the natives of this land who view everything first-hand and can discern conditions better than anyone else, are completely aware that there are no foreign fighters currently present in Afghanistan. How is it possible that thousands of foreign fighters maintain presence in Afghanistan according to the UN report yet the residents of this country remain in the dark? 
“Fictitious report in the name of a reputable organization“, Voice of Jihad, June 6, 2020

This is not the first time the Taliban has denied the presence of foreign fighters. In Dec. 2019, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said that there “are no foreign nationals present in Afghanistan.” He made the statement after FDD’s Long War Journal reported on a video released by the Turkistan Islamic Party, an Al Qaeda and Taliban ally, that showed its operatives training and and fighting in Afghanistan.

In Dec. 2018, the Taliban refuted an NBC News article that reported a Taliban leader admitting that there are upwards of 3,000 foreign fighters battling alongside the group in Afghanistan. The Taliban issued a formal denial, and claimed that “no foreigners exist in Afghanistan,” stating they left the country after the US invasion.

The Taliban’s denial of the presence of foreign fighters in Afghanistan is of course absurd. FDD’s Long War Journal has consistently documented the presence of Al Qaeda, Islamic State and a host of other foreign terrorists in the country over the past two decades. The information is based on U.S. and Afghan military raids against the groups’ leaders and fighters, U.N. reports, press reporting, and even Al Qaeda’s own martyrdom statements for its leaders and fighters killed while fighting in Afghanistan.

Just six weeks after signing the withdrawal deal with the U.S., the Taliban even lauded Mullah Omar, its founder and first emir, for defending and harboring Osama bin Laden after the 9/11 attacks on the U.S.

Yet the Taliban continues to maintain the facade that “there are no foreign fighters currently present in Afghanistan.”

The Taliban’s continuous denial of the presence of Al Qaeda and other foreign fighters should give Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad and other U.S. officials – who somehow maintain that the Taliban will be an effective counterterrorism partner – serious cause for concern.

Secretary Pompeo even boldly declared that the Taliban will work hand-in-hand with the U.S. to “destroy” Al Qaeda. Meanwhile the deal signed between the two included no such commitment.

After all, how can the Taliban destroy Al Qaeda if it isn’t even in Afghanistan?