KABUL: Afghanistan’s Taliban government today seized on an off-the-cuff remark by US president Joe Biden to underscore their claim that there was no Al-Qaeda threat in the country.
Biden was leaving a press conference yesterday on the US Supreme Court’s decision to block his student debt relief programme when a reporter asked if he admitted to mistakes during the withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021.
“No, no. All the evidence is coming back,” he replied, according to a White House transcript.
“Do you remember what I said about Afghanistan? I said Al-Qaeda would not be there. I said it wouldn’t be there. I said we’d get help from the Taliban. What’s happening now? What’s going on? Read your press. I was right.”
The question was prompted by a report released yesterday which said US officials were inhibited during mass evacuations from Afghanistan in 2021 by a lack of clear decision-making, an absence of centralised crisis management and confusing public messaging.
The so-called after action review was ordered by secretary of state Antony Blinken after outrage over the chaotic scenes in Kabul as Taliban fighters seized control following the end of the 20-year US military presence.
Today, the Afghan ministry of foreign affairs seized on Biden’s comment.
“We consider remarks by US president Joe Biden about non-existence of armed groups in Afghanistan as acknowledgement of reality,” the ministry said in a statement.
“It refutes the recent report by UN sanctions monitoring team alleging the presence and operation of over twenty armed groups in Afghanistan.”
In May, a UN report said there were indications armed groups such as Al-Qaeda were rebuilding in the country.
“The link between the Taliban and both Al-Qaeda and Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) remains strong and symbiotic,” it said.
“A range of terrorist groups have greater freedom of manoeuvre under the Taliban de facto authorities. They are making good use of this, and the threat of terrorism is rising in both Afghanistan and the region.”
Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers insist they do not allow the country’s soil to be used by armed groups plotting against other nations, and deny the presence of Al-Qaeda.
They have not acknowledged the killing of Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri by a US drone strike in central Kabul last year, saying investigations into the incident are continuing.