The Taliban broke its silence Thursday, days after a US drone strike killed al-Qaeda's top leader in Afghanistan's capital, acknowledging his slaying and pledging to launch an investigation. The killing of Ayman al-Zawahri on the balcony of a Kabul safehouse Sunday has further strained relations between the Taliban and the West, particularly as the Taliban seeks an urgent infusion of cash to handle an economic catastrophe there following the US withdrawal from the country a year ago. "The government and the leadership weren't aware of what is being claimed, nor any trace there," Suhail Shaheen, the head of the group's political office in Doha, Qatar, told the AP in a text message.
That claim, however, directly conflicts with what US officials have said about the strike. They say al-Zawahri was staying at the home of a top aide to senior Taliban leader Sirajuddin Haqqani, the subject of a $10 million bounty from the US government. Haqqani is the deputy head of the Taliban, serves as interior minister in its government, and heads the Haqqani network, a powerful faction within the movement that battled US-led NATO troops and the former Afghanistan government over the past 20 years, though he also has rivals within the Taliban leadership.
The Taliban had promised in the 2020 Doha Agreement with the US that they would not harbor al-Qaeda members or those seeking to attack the US. An "investigation is underway now to find out about veracity of the claim. The leadership is in constant meeting in this regard. Findings will be shared with all," Shaheen said. (Read more Taliban stories.)