Al-Qaeda ‘pledges allegiance’ to embattled new Taliban leader

© Parwiz
Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri is believed to have broken an 11-month silence to promised its loyalty to the new leader of the Afghan Taliban, Mullah Mohammad Akhtar Mansour, who has faced challenges to his authority.

"We pledge our allegiance ... to the commander of the faithful, Mullah Mohammad Akhtar Mansour, may God protect him," said an as-yet-unverified recorded message that nonetheless shares similarities with previous missives sent out by the group responsible for the 9/11 attacks.

"As leader of the al Qaeda organization for jihad, I offer our pledge of allegiance, renewing the path of Sheikh Osama [bin Laden] and the devoted martyrs in their pledge to the commander of the faithful, the holy warrior Mullah Omar."

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Mansour was promoted to the leader of the Islamist group, which controls large swathes of land in the south of Afghanistan, after the Taliban admitted that his predecessor Mullah Mohammed Omar died over two years ago, in April 2013.

Ayman al-Zawahiri © SITE Monitoring Service via Reuters

Al-Qaeda, which enjoys a symbiotic relationship with the Taliban, and whose leaders may be safeguarded in the same areas it operates, previously repeatedly declared loyalty to Omar.

Mansour, Omar’s longtime deputy, who has reportedly been in day-to-day command of the Taliban since 2010, was elected in a meeting staged in the Pakistani city of Quetta last month.

But he has not received unanimous support, with the official declaration of Omar’s death exposing a splintering leadership. Omar’s younger brother recorded a message saying his family did not endorse the successor, and media reported that over a dozen Taliban members staged a walkout during the council where Mansour was elected.

Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour © Taliban Handout / Handout via Reuters

Al-Qaeda’s support, delivered in the rare message, could give Mansour’s legitimacy a boost.

Both, Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, are facing fundamental challenges, not least from the upstart Islamic State.

Al-Qaeda, which once symbolized Islamic radicalism, with a series of terrorist attacks and longer-term insurgencies, has seen support and funding ebb away towards ISIS, which was formed from its Iraqi affiliate. Al-Qaeda has broken its diplomatic ties with Islamic State, and has condemned its brutal tactics in conquered areas as un-Islamic and “barbaric.”

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The Taliban has also seen threats of defections to the fresher and more radical Islamic State in Afghanistan. Omar was widely seen as in the pocket of the Pakistani security services, who may have offered him safe houses for a decade. In a bid to retain hardline support, Mansour has proclaimed his independence, and has poured cold water on the prospect of new peace negotiations with the Afghan government, which had been set in motion earlier this year.