“As leader of the al-Qaeda organization for jihad, I offer our pledge of allegiance, renewing the path of Sheikh Osama (bin Laden) and the devoted martyrs in their pledge to the commander of the faithful, the holy warrior Mullah Omar“, the message said, according to Reuters.
Earlier on Monday, the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani also criticized Pakistan for providing safe heavens to the Taliban insurgents which infiltrate into Afghanistan and launch attacks there.
As the Long War Journal’s Thomas Joscelyn points out, the speech is dated August 1, meaning that the al-Qaeda leader recorded his message just two days after the Taliban announced Mansour as their new leader.
The Islamic State group is operating in Afghanistan but does not appear able to coordinate their operations in the country, a top US military official said Thursday.
Zawahiri’s message – while impossible to independently verify – will be seen as significant. The answer perhaps lies in the fact that the installation of Mullah Mohammed Mansour as the new Taliban head has given Islamabad a golden opportunity to extend its reach in Afghanistan as he is known to be extremely close to Pakistan.
The selection of Mullah Akhtar Mansoor as Mullah Omar’s successor is meanwhile believed to have widened a rift within the Taliban between those who favor peacetalks and those who want to continue the 14-year insurgency.
Al Qaeda has shared a symbiotic relationship with the Taliban, having repeatedly pledged loyalty to Omar. For tactical reasons, the Taliban does not advertise its partnerships with al-Qaida and the ISI, which would undermine its claim to be Afghan nationalists.
Al Qaeda’s endorsement, therefore, could give Mansour’s legitimacy as leader a boost. Zakir is tirelessly pushing for Mullah Omar’s son Yaqoob and he has a sizable faction of the Taliban behind him.
The senior Taliban commander killed during the gun battle was identified as Mullah Ismail who was killed along with his five men and three militants from the other group was also killed. The vacuum resulting from his demise, coupled with the power struggle within the Taliban ranks, will provide IS with the ideal opportunity to fill the void and maximise its gains in Afghanistan.
Shoffner said the Islamic State’s fighters are clashing with the Taliban in areas of Afghanistan where the Islamic State is encroaching on Taliban territory. The Monday speech signaled an abrupt shift for Ghani from a position of fence-mending outreach to one of open frustration with Pakistan, reports CBS News’ Maria Usman.
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