In early July, U.S. President Joe Biden stirred controversy by stating that al-Qaida no longer has a presence in Afghanistan—thanks, he suggested, to the Taliban. Responding to a question about a recently released State Department report that was critical of his administration’s handling of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, Biden replied, “Remember what I said about Afghanistan? I said al-Qaida would not be there. … I said we’d get help from the Taliban.” He then added, “What’s happening now? … I was right.”
The Taliban predictably applauded Biden’s statement. But others pointed out that it contradicted a United Nations report issued in February, which stated that “ties between Al-Qaida and the Taliban remain close, as underscored by the regional presence of Al-Qaida core leadership.” Moreover, a more recent report released in June by the same U.N. monitoring team included a claim made by an unnamed U.N. member state that the successor to Ayman al-Zawahiri as al-Qaida’s de facto leader, Saif al-Adel, has recently moved from Iran to Afghanistan. The June report also described the relationship between the Taliban and al-Qaida as “symbiotic.”
However, this time again, U.S. officials quickly disputed both claims, with one saying that al-Qaida “simply has not reconstituted a presence in Afghanistan since the U.S. departure in August 2021.” How are we to make sense of these conflicting characterizations?