Hours before U.S. President Joe Biden announced that al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri was killed by a U.S. drone strike in central Kabul on July 30, the Taliban accused Washington of violating the February 2020 U.S.-Taliban deal known as the Doha Agreement.
“Such actions are a repetition of the failed experiences of the past 20 years and are against the interests of the USA, Afghanistan and the region,” the Taliban said in a statement on August 1.
U.S. officials, however, blame the Taliban for acting against their counterterrorism commitments made in the same agreement.
“By hosting and sheltering the leader of al Qaida in Kabul, the Taliban grossly violated the Doha Agreement and repeated assurances to the world that they would not allow Afghan territory to be used by terrorists to threaten the security of other countries,” the State Department said in a prepared statement.
Senior U.S. officials have said that the fugitive al-Qaida leader was hosted in Kabul by the Haqqani Network, a powerful faction within the Taliban with deep ties to the Pakistani intelligence community.
Since seizing power in Kabul last year, the Taliban have defied U.S. calls to form an inclusive Afghan government, allow women to work and get an education, and respect the rights of religious minorities.
Washington has declined to recognize the Taliban government, has imposed strict financial sanctions on it, and has withheld from the Taliban over $7 billion of Afghanistan’s financial reserves in New York.
Neither Washington nor Kabul has used Saturday’s drone strike in Kabul — the first such incident since the U.S. withdrew all military forces from the country last August — to indicate an end to the Doha Agreement, which has prevented direct U.S.-Taliban confrontation thus far.
“One of the many problems with the Doha Agreement was the lack of mechanisms for arbitration and enforcement. There is no referee, and no specific consequences for any violations. So there is nobody who can say whether the agreement is broken and the consequences would be unclear,” Graeme Smith, a senior consultant with the International Crisis Group (ICG), told VOA.
The Doha Agreement, which has no specified end date, commits the Taliban to prevent security threats from Afghanistan to the U.S. and its allies. It also requires the Taliban not to allow any terrorist groups or individuals, including al-Qaida, to use Afghan territory against U.S. interests.
Experts also blame the agreement for its alleged lack of clarity in regard to specific individuals like al-Zawahiri.
“I guess the Taliban understood from it [the agreement] that they were not allowed to host any operationally active international terrorist groups, which to them did not include someone like Ayman al-Zawahiri,” Obaidullah Baheer, an Afghan analyst and a lecturer at the American University of Afghanistan, told VOA.
Whether or not al-Zawahiri was actively threatening the security and interests of the U.S. and its allies from his home in Kabul, he was the most wanted terrorist by the U.S. government with a bounty of $25 million on his head.
Afghanistan remains a country of serious concern for U.S. national security officials, who have said that terror groups such as Islamic State’s Khorasan Branch continue to plot against U.S. interests in the region.
On paper, the Taliban have pledged they will not harbor terrorists that will threaten U.S. security and interests, but the drone strike on al-Zawahiri’s residence, less than two kilometers from the Taliban’s intelligence headquarters in Kabul, shows U.S. officials will take preemptive and unilateral action rather than trusting the Taliban to neutralize terror threats.
However, the U.S. will still need the Taliban to remain committed to counterterror objectives.
“Even if this strike hit the intended target, air power often fails to address security problems in the long term. The U.S. and its allies will probably need to work with the de facto authorities to resolve security issues eventually, even if such engagement is hard to imagine in the aftermath of this incident,” said Smith.
A day after Washington confirmed a U.S. drone strike had killed al-Zawahiri, the Taliban offered no explanation as to how the world’s most wanted terrorist was residing in the heart of Kabul.
U.S. officials say gunmen of the Haqqani Network took members of al-Zawahiri’s family to other locations after the strike, but it is unclear what the Taliban have done to al-Zawahiri’s corpse.
The Taliban have repeatedly refused to cooperate with the U.S. on counterterror issues, and it is unlikely the group will share anything left from al-Zawahiri that will help U.S. intelligence to target other al-Qaida remnants.