“If Zawahiri’s martyrdom is confirmed, shame on us that we failed to protect the true hero of Islam,” tweeted an Afghan named Ehsanullah in response to a statement from the chief Taliban spokesman that he was the leader of al-Qaeda murdered. killed in a US drone strike.
The assassination of al-Zawahiri, a hero to Islamist militant groups but a long-sought terrorist in the West, has also crystallized the ongoing struggle between moderate and hard factions within the Taliban regime. Several leaders of the hard-line Haqqani network, long convicted by US officials for directing high-profile terrorist attacks, hold powerful positions in the regime.
In a pair of tweets Tuesday night, Anas Haqqani, an influential Taliban figure who took part in the peace negotiations in Doha, said: “This attack by the United States is a barbaric act and will have serious consequences.” The second tweet showed a video of US troops being attacked and said it was “dedicated to the president of the savages. I think the US has forgotten past experiences.”
Some Afghan and US analysts said the drone strike could harden the Taliban’s stance and push the regime toward an open embrace of the extremist forces it promised to renounce in its 2020 peace deal with the United States.
“The Taliban are now in major political trouble and they will be under pressure to retaliate. The relationship they have with al-Qaeda and other jihadist groups remains very strong,” said Asfandyar Mir, an expert on Islamic extremism at the US Institute of Peace in Washington. “I think we need to brace ourselves for impact.”
Mir noted that while Taliban officials hoped to gain international recognition and access $7 billion in assets frozen by the Biden administration, the group’s top religious leader, Hibatullah Akhundzada, bluntly stated at a national conclave in May. : “We are in a clash of civilizations with the West.”
US kills al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in Kabul . drone strike
There is a deep-seated hostility here towards the United States, which grew after US troops withdrew last year and the wartime economy collapsed, leaving millions of Afghans out of work. When Afghan officials confirmed too late that a US drone had killed the leader of al-Qaeda after first claiming the attack was a harmless missile attack, many Afghans were outraged.
“We already have so many concerns. For a whole year there have been no jobs, no business, no activities. But at least the battle was over. The Taliban were in charge and there was good security,” said a resident of the Sherpur neighborhood where the drone struck, calling his name Hakimullah. “Now, suddenly, this attack happens, and everyone is scared again.”
Many Afghans seem to know little about al-Zawahiri or al-Qaeda. This is partly because so many of them were born after the September 11, 2001 attacks, which US officials said were the masterminds of al-Zawahiri and his associates, and partly because the al-Qaeda fighters who joined forces with the Taliban are Middle Eastern whose presence in Afghanistan has always been inconspicuous.
What the Assassination of Ayman al-Zawahiri Means for Al-Qaeda
Until now, people here have been much more focused on the threat from another Sunni Muslim extremist movement known as Islamic State-Khorasan or ISIS-K. The group has repeatedly bombed mosques, schools and other locations in Kabul in the past, especially during Muharram’s Shia Muslim festival, which began this week.
Among those most baffled by the turn of events are Afghan citizens who have tried to establish working relationships with the new Taliban authorities and encourage them to develop moderate and practical governance policies rather than focusing solely on religion.
Faiz Zaland, who teaches public administration and political science at Kabul University, expressed frustration with the Taliban for not anticipating the risks of bringing al-Zawahiri to the capital, and was concerned that the US attack could hit moderate elements. in the regime was doomed to compete with the hardline religious figures at the top.
“The Taliban are now trapped, and it is their own fault,” he said. “This is going to undermine their first year’s performance, and people who care about them feel betrayed and scared.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article misrepresented the value of Afghan assets frozen by the Biden administration. The accurate figure is $7 billion. The article has been updated.