Pentagon says Taliban maintains Al Qaeda ties, jeopardizing US-Taliban deal

A report released by the US Department of Defense has prompted the Donald Trump administration to reconsider its deal with the Afghan movement.
The report, released ahead of the American withdrawal from Afghanistan under the US-Taliban deal, says that the Taliban continues to hold relations with Al Qaeda.
The report appears to be a huge embarrassment for the Trump administration, which is keen on pulling American troops out from the war-torn Central Asian country before the US presidential elections in November.
For Trump, the exit will be proof to American voters that he has fulfilled one of his campaign promises to end the endless wars.
According to the US-Taliban deal, the Afghan group will stop targeting US and Western-led coalition troops, promising to give no support to groups like Al Qaeda.
“AQIS (Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent) 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,” said the strongly-worded Pentagon report.
“Despite recent progress in the peace process, AQIS maintains close ties to the Taliban in Afghanistan, likely for protection and training,” the report stated.
According to experts, the Pentagon’s recent Taliban assessment shows clear differences between the Trump administration and the US military.
“The Pentagon and the US Defense establishment do not want to deal with the Taliban. They don’t want to leave Afghanistan. Leaving Afghanistan in peace talks is pretty much Trump’s project,” said Kamal Alam, a military expert on the Middle East’s history and Central Asian conflicts.
Alam also finds a connection between the recent Pentagon report, which accuses the Taliban of continuing to ally with Al Qaeda, and the recently revealed allegations made by US intelligence sources that Russia has offered bounties to the Afghan group to kill US and UK troops in the Central Asian country.
“This is not also a coincidence that both reports are coming out at this particular time to put pressure on Trump to cancel Taliban peace talks and extend US military stay in Afghanistan,” Alam said.
In fact, he said, there was a hearing in the US Congress, which said that any troop withdrawal must be delayed in Afghanistan. “We must keep in mind that Russians and the Taliban are working together’ was the main line there.”
According to the Pentagon report and the latest US intelligence concerning a Russian bounty program, there is an orchestrated Russian effort to facilitate an American withdrawal from Afghanistan. It, in effect, incentivises the Taliban to kill US troops, forcing Trump to leave, while it also encourages Washington to reach a deal with the Afghan group to help realise US pullout.
“As of February, the Russian government was working with the central government, regional countries, and the Taliban to gain increased influence in Afghanistan, expedite a U.S. military withdrawal, and address security challenges that might arise from a withdrawal,” said the Pentagon’s briefed report to the Congress.
“In the last two years, both Russians and Iranians have been supporting the Taliban”, says Alam. He says he finds the claim that Russians pay the group to kill American soldiers “a bit too extreme”.
Since the US-Taliban deal in March, there have been increasingly conflicting accounts emerging from different US official voices regarding what the Taliban to fight terrorism.
“One person is saying Taliban is helping fight terrorism and the other person is saying that Taliban has ties with Al Qaeda. There is not one unified view on this issue in Washington,” the analyst says.
But the Taliban denies both any involvement regarding the Russian bounty program, and attacks against US troops.
“These kinds of deals with the Russian intelligence agency are baseless — our target killings and assassinations were ongoing in years before, and we did it on our own resources. That changed after our deal with the Americans, and their lives are secure and we don’t attack them,” said Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman.
While there was no response to the Pentagon report, in early June, the group rebuked a previous UN document which also claimed that the Taliban holds connections with Al Qaeda.
Alam is certain “they have some connections.” However, he remains unsure as to whether it is a strong one.
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