WASHINGTON/ISLAMABAD – U.S. officials say they are seriously investigating Taliban claims that Islamic State in Afghanistan was plotting to assassinate Zalmay Khalilzad, the American peace envoy for the country.
The Taliban have recently shared with journalists a video of two blindfolded men in their custody, saying they were recruited by Islamic State for the would-be suicide mission aimed at killing Khalilzad.
“The U.S. government takes any potential threat against U.S. personnel seriously,” a State Department spokesperson told VOA when contacted for a reaction.
“U.S. officials are investigating the video, in addition to Afghan government authorities,” the spokesperson added.
Khalilzad led the U.S. team that negotiated and sealed a landmark pact with the Taliban in February that aims to end the nearly 19-year Afghan war, America’s longest.
The two captives, speaking in Pashto, said in their purported confession that the plot to kill the U.S. envoy was facilitated by former and current officers within the Afghan intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security (NDS).
They also named Rahmatullah Nabil, a former NDS chief, as being one of their key contacts. Nabil swiftly denied the charges and denounced the video as fake two days after the Taliban released the nearly seven minutes of footage via its social media outlets.
“Very soon I will provide verified information in this regard in order for my fellow Afghans to reach an informed conclusion. Being honest with my people is always the main principles and values of my life,” the former Afghan spymaster Sunday.
The would-be assassins in their video confession claimed that their team was to carry out the suicide car bombing outside the Kabul residence of a prominent Afghan jihadist leader, Hamid Gailani, where Khalilzad was scheduled to be during one of his trips to the country last month.
But the American envoy did not show up that day, and the hit team was ordered to report back to a contact in Logar province 10 days later, the men said. They added that Taliban insurgents stopped them at one of the posts on the road and took them into custody after recovering NDS credentials from their possessions.
The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), which is training, advising and assisting Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF), also questioned the militant assertions.
“The department is not currently aware of credible intelligence that suggests that the government of Afghanistan is working with ISIS to undermine the U.S.-Taliban agreement,” said a Pentagon statement, using an acronym for the Middle Eastern terrorist outfit.
A U.S. defense official instead praised the role of the Afghan government and its security forces in fighting Islamic State militants throughout the country.
“Let us not allow this to overlook the extraordinary effort that continues to be undertaken by the ANDSF, and the many successes they have achieved against ISIS,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The Taliban, in a statement, claimed the failed alleged assassination plot was solely meant to sabotage the insurgent group’s historic agreement with the U.S. to end years of war in Afghanistan and to find a political settlement to four decades of turmoil in the country through intra-Afghan talks.
It is not yet known whether Taliban leaders in their frequent meetings with Khalilzad in Qatar, where the two adversaries signed the peace pact, have officially conveyed details of the alleged plot to kill him.
“Mechanisms remain in place for DoD and other [U.S. government] departments to raise and address issues of concern with the Taliban,” noted a U.S. defense official.
The U.S.-Taliban agreement requires all American and coalition troops to leave Afghanistan by July 2021 in return for insurgent assurances not to allow terrorist groups to use Afghan soil for international attacks.
The Taliban have promised to engage in intra-Afghan negotiations to agree on a permanent cease-fire and power-sharing arrangement in postwar Afghanistan.
A preliminary round of talks between Taliban and Afghan negotiators is expected to take place this month in Qatar provided a prisoner swap between the Afghan government and the Taliban is concluded by then.
Source: Voice of America