The Taliban still maintains close ties with the Al-Qaeda terrorist network, despite signing a peace deal with the United States in which they committed to fight militant groups, a new United Nations report said.
The Taliban slammed the report, made public on June 1, as "baseless and bigoted."
Under the U.S.-Taliban deal signed in February, the militant group pledged to combat other extremists and deny them from using Afghan soil to launch attacks on the United States and its allies.
"Relations between the Taliban, especially the Haqqani network, and [Al-Qaeda] remain close, based on friendship, a history of shared struggle, ideological sympathy and intermarriage," said the report sent by independent UN sanctions monitors to the UN Security Council.
The report added that the Taliban "regularly consulted" with Al-Qaeda during negotiations with the United States and "offered guarantees that it would honor their historical ties."
"The challenge will be to secure the counterterrorism gains to which the Taliban have committed" under the U.S.-Taliban deal, the report said.
U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad downplayed the UN report, saying it largely covered a period before the February agreement.
"There is progress, but we will continue to monitor those activities very closely," he said of Taliban ties with Al-Qaeda, adding that if the Taliban fails to keep its promises, Washington could reconsider its own.
Under the agreement, signed in Doha on February 29, the United States will pull troops out of Afghanistan by mid-2021, while the Taliban also committed to launching direct negotiations with the Afghan government over a permanent cease-fire and a future power-sharing arrangement.
'Ahead Of Schedule'
U.S. officials have said that American troops are already returning home and the withdrawal is ahead of schedule.
The United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and toppled the Taliban regime, saying it had provided a safe haven to Al-Qaeda, which carried out the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.
The UN report said the Islamic State (IS) extremist group remained “capable of mounting attacks in various parts of Afghanistan, including Kabul.”
It added that some of those attacks “may have arisen wholly or partly from a tactical accommodation with the Haqqani Network,” a key Taliban faction believed to have been behind some of the deadliest attacks on Afghan and international forces as well as Afghan civilians.
After suffering a series of setbacks, the UN report said the number of IS militants in Afghanistan was “as low as 2,200.”
“In addition to their handling of any threat posed by [Al-Qaeda], the Taliban’s credibility as a counterterrorism partner for the international community will rest on their success in countering the threat” from Afghanistan’s IS affiliate, said the report.
It said that there were thousands of foreign fighters active in Afghanistan, including 6,500 militants from neighboring Pakistan.
The Taliban insurgency has been a unifying cause for some 20 smaller foreign militant groups, mostly from Pakistan and Central Asia.
Experts say the Taliban has ties to some of these groups.