Al-Qaeda Leader Zawahiri Endorses New Taliban Chief

Comments Seen as Aimed at Stopping ISIS Growing in Region

by Jason Ditz, June 12, 2016

Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri is released a message publicly pledging allegiance to the newly appointed Taliban leader Mullah Akhundzada, a religious scholar who succeeded Mullah Mansour in late May as the leader of the Afghan insurgency.

Zawahiri vowed to dedicate his fighters to “liberate every inch of the lands of the Muslims,” not just in Afghanistan, but across the world in the video. The comments were seen by some as an attempt to forestall growing ISIS influence in Afghanistan by publicly aligning with their chief rival.

ISIS has been recruiting across Afghanistan for over a year now, and has a presence around Jalalabad. Their recruitment aims to take away Islamists that usually would join the Taliban, and they have fought against the Taliban over territory on several occasions.

Reports also claim ISIS is increasingly cozying up to Akhundzada’s primary rival, Mullah Rasool. This is noteworthy not just as a sign that ISIS is trying to take advantage of the Taliban’s contested leadership, but because the CIA-backed Afghan government spy agency is also backing Rasool, meaning ISIS sees an opportunity to piggyback of this effort for its own gain.

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