Residents in the opium-rich Taliban stronghold Helmand, Afghanistan’s largest province, reportedly expressed outrage at the arrest of two female al-Qaeda jihadis by local authorities and demanded their immediate release, Khaama Press (KP) reported Tuesday.
“A group of local tribal elders on Monday met with provincial governor Mohammad Yasin Khan to negotiate the release of the two women, warning that the apprehension of the women have sparked furore among the residents of Malgir in Greshk district,” KP revealed.
Despite the Pentagon’s assertion last December that the Taliban is distancing itself from its al-Qaeda allies, the United Nations described the relationship between the two groups as “long-lasting and strong” early this year.
In a statement, the provincial government’s media arm revealed that authorities arrested the al-Qaeda-linked women in an operation in southern Helmand, which sits next to the Taliban birthplace of Kandahar along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
It is unclear exactly when the women were taken into custody.
According to Helmand’s government, Afghan security forces killed two al-Qaeda jihadis and detained four others, including the two women, during the operation.
It appears that the local government has capitulated to the tribal leaders’ demands that the female jihadis be released immediately.
Citing the Helmand government’s statement about the arrest, KP noted:
Governor Yasin Khan told the visiting tribal elders that the women were arrested on charges of having membership of Al Qaeda network and were arrested based on intelligence information, the provincial government added.
In the meantime, Yasin Khan said the demands of the local residents have been shared with the officials in Kabul, promising that the women will be released considering the cultural values of people but the two men will be kept in the custody for further investigations.
The decision to release the women came soon after the intensified peace-seeking activities by U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration yielded two draft agreements, including assurances by the Taliban that Afghanistan will not serve as a sanctuary for international terrorists seeking to attack the American homeland as it did for al-Qaeda before 9/11.
Taliban jihadis have rejected a Trump administration proposal to leave behind a residual American force to ensure the terrorist group keeps its promises, demanding that the foreign forces leave Afghanistan immediately.
The U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan (SIGAR), a watchdog agency, has repeatedly noted that the Taliban controls most of Helmand.
U.N. officials have deemed Helmand and Kandahar the top poppy-producing regions in Afghanistan, which remains the world’s top supplier of opium and its heroin derivative despite nearly $9 billion in American taxpayer funds devoted to counternarcotics activities in the South Asian country since the war began in October 2001.
The Taliban generates most of its funding from the illicit cultivation and trafficking of opium and heroin, a small portion of which is fueling the unprecedented number of deadly drug overdoses that have proved more deadly for Americans than worldwide terrorism.
Amid the ongoing peace negotiations, Taliban jihadis have escalated their deadly attacks against the U.S. military, the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF), which includes military and police units, and local civilians.
The Trump administration has made the negotiated reconciliation between the Afghan government and the Taliban the primary tenet of its strategy to end the more than 17-year-old war, America’s longest military engagement.
Taliban jihadis’ refusal to allow Kabul to participate in the ongoing talks has surfaced as the main point of contention between negotiators. The Taliban claims it will negotiate with Kabul after the complete withdrawal of foreign forces.
The group has rejected the Trump administration’s offer to pull American troops out of Afghanistan within five years, demanding that the forces withdraw in months.
While the Taliban wants foreign forces to leave Afghanistan immediately, the terrorist group wants to keep the flow of American taxpayer-funded aid going.
Besides counterterrorism assurances by the Taliban, peace negotiations last week also yielded a draft agreement for the eventual withdrawal of U.S. troops, a move that will likely be welcomed by the war-weary American public.