Top US officials meet with Taliban months after assassination of Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri

Washington: More than two months after the assassination of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in Kabul, top US officials met with the Taliban on Saturday. This is the first face-to-face meeting between the two sides after the July drone strike that led to al-Zawahiri’s assassination, CNN reported, citing two officials familiar with the talks.

Biden’s top administrations included CIA deputy director David Cohen and Tom West, the State Department’s special representative for Afghanistan. While the Taliban delegation was represented by intelligence chief Abdul Haq Wasiq.

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The presence of the deputy director of the CIA and the head of Taliban intelligence at the meeting indicates an emphasis on counterterrorism, the US broadcaster said. This comes after the White House called counter-terrorism cooperation with the Taliban “a work in progress” last month, according to CNN.

In the months since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, the Islamic State of Khorasan (ISIS-K) has managed to expand its reach to almost all provinces of Afghanistan. The terrorist group has also accelerated its attacks by carrying out suicide bombings, ambushes and assassinations.

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“The Taliban struggle to prevent ISIS-K attacks, which makes them look silly, especially in Kabul,” Beth Sanner, a former deputy director of national intelligence, told CNN.

“[Cohen] will likely send a strong signal that we will carry out more strikes as we did against Zawahiri if we discover that al-Qaeda members in Afghanistan are supporting operations that threaten the US or its allies,” he added.

“ISIS-K now poses an internal Afghan threat, to the Taliban and to sectarian stability given ISIS-K’s focus on killing Shiites, but there is some reasonable concern that ISIS-K could eventually set its sights on external conspiracy like the Taliban cannot contain them.”

Last month, the United Nations expressed growing security concerns in Afghanistan while also pointing to worrying trends observed in recent months, particularly the continued presence of foreign terrorist groups in the country.

The concerns were expressed in the latest quarterly Afghanistan report from UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to the Security Council.

“The security situation reveals a worrying trend in recent months, notably the series of attacks by ISIL-K, recurrent armed opposition clashes with de facto Taliban security forces and the continued presence of foreign terrorist groups in Afghanistan,” the report said.

It said the Taliban’s commitment to ensure that no group or individual will use Afghanistan’s soil to threaten the security of other countries must be sustained through concrete actions.

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