Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri is urging fellow jihadists to back his Taliban allies and reject his Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) rivals in Afghanistan.
Zawahiri’s latest video message, titled “Be Not Divided Among Yourselves,” was released Sunday, reports Khaama Press (KP), and according to the news outlet, the al-Qaeda leader called on the world’s Muslims to “rally around the emirate,” which is a reference to the Afghan Taliban.
The video comes nearly four months after Maj. Gen. Jeff Buchanan, deputy chief of staff for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, revealed that the relationship between a resurgent al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and the Taliban was “growing stronger.”
Afghanistan’s Acting Defense Minister Masoom Stanekzai also expressed concern about the relationship between the two groups, saying al-Qaeda in Afghanistan is “really very active. They are working in quiet and reorganizing themselves and preparing themselves for bigger attacks.”
“There’s not thousands of them, but clearly in remote parts of Afghanistan there are al-Qaeda leaders we’re concerned about and what they’re capable of doing,” added Gen. Buchanan.
Both the Taliban and al-Qaeda consider ISIS their mortal enemy. In Afghanistan, the al-Qaeda-backed Taliban has been fighting ISIS for territory and influence. The Taliban remains the strongest group in the country with more territory and fighters than any other jihadist organization.
Earlier this month, there were reports that the Taliban and ISIL-K had agreed to a truce in eastern Afghanistan, but the Taliban denied those allegations in an interview with a media outlet controlled by Iran. The Taliban and Iran have reportedly joined forces against ISIS.
Khaama Press notes, “Both the Taliban group and the ISIS loyalists are struggling to gain prominence in the country by enforcing their respective strict interpretation of Islam.”
Despite declaring an end to the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan, President Barack Obama has intensified the war.
ISIL-K has been degraded from an estimated peak of 3,000 to “between 1,000 and 1,500 at the present time,” said Gen. John Nicholson, the top commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, late last month.
In October 2015, the Russian military estimated the Taliban’s strength at nearly 40,000 fighters. Citing U.S. officials, CNN reported in April of this year that “the number of core al-Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan could be as high as 300, but that number does include other facilitators and sympathizers in their network.”