Afghanistan drone strike: US may have received tip-off from Taliban

Former US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad refuses to rule out dispute within Taliban over giving refuge to Ayman Al Zawahiri

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad speaks to the media after a meeting of the U.N. Security Council to discuss the conflict between Russian and Georgia at United Nations headquarters in New York August 11, 2008.    REUTERS/Keith Bedford/File Photo
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The US might have acted on a tip-off from Taliban members to precisely locate Al Qaeda leader Ayman Al Zawahiri in Kabul and kill him in a drone strike, former US special envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad has said.

“I would not be surprised that some elements of the Taliban may have helped us, that tipped us off in terms of the location,” Mr Khalilzad told American National Public Radio (NPR) on Tuesday.

Al Zawahiri was killed in a US strike in Afghanistan at the weekend, the biggest blow to the militant group since its founder Osama bin Laden was killed in 2011.

Al Zawahiri had been in hiding for years and the operation to find and kill him was the result of "careful, patient and persistent" work by the counter-terrorism and intelligence community, American officials said.

“Some Taliban knew, but that their leadership as a whole knew it, I'm not sure,” said Mr Khalilzad, who stepped down from his role after the US withdrawal from Afghanistan in August last year. "But certainly, it looks like the Haqqani network, which is an important element of the Taliban, did know."

Mr Khalilzad was referring to the militant network, whose leaders have key posts in the new Taliban administration.

The extremist group was responsible for many of the attacks on Afghan, US and Nato forces for many years.

The US and Taliban blamed each other for breaching an agreement they reached in the Qatari capital Doha in February 2020, which set the stage for the Americans' withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Asked if some elements of the Taliban did not know of Al Zawahiri’s presence in Kabul, Mr Khalil said it was possible.

“I will not rule it out," he said. "And maybe there was a disagreement or anger even, and that some elements were violating the agreement that was negotiated between the United States and the Taliban. And that this action by the Haqqanis would have put the rest of the gains that they had made and lessons that they had learnt from supporting Al Qaeda the last time ... it cost them a lot.”

Mr Khalilzad, who helped negotiate the Doha agreement, said the US had never trusted the Taliban leadership.

“We hold them accountable to the agreement that they made ... the agreement is clear," he said. "That's in black and white. Allowing someone to plot and plan, attack — someone who plotted and planned the 9/11 attack on the United States to stay in Kabul and issue a statement threatening the security of the United States is clear beyond any doubt a violation of the Doha agreement."

Mr Khalilzad had come under criticism from Afghans and Americans for his role in negotiating a political settlement with the Taliban and the collapse of the Kabul government in August.

Updated: August 03, 2022, 12:50 PM