In remote, pine-clad valleys of Afghanistan’s Kunar province and in online jihadist chat forums there is jubilation at what al-Qaeda supporters see as “a historic victory” by the Taliban.
The humiliating departure of the very forces that temporarily expelled both the Taliban and al-Qaeda 20 years ago has come as a massive morale boost to anti-Western jihadists all over the world.
The potential hiding places for them now opening up in the country’s ungoverned spaces are a tempting prize, especially for Islamic State (IS) group militants looking to find a new base after the defeat of their self-declared caliphate in Iraq and Syria.
Western generals and politicians are warning that the return of al-Qaeda to Afghanistan, in strength, is “inevitable”.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, speaking after an emergency crisis meeting, warned that Western nations needed to unite to prevent Afghanistan lapsing back into becoming a haven for international terrorist groups.
And on Monday UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on the UN Security Council to “use all tools at its disposal to suppress the global terrorist threat in Afghanistan”.
During the Taliban’s recent dramatic takeover of the whole country, there have been numerous reported sightings of “foreigners” in their ranks, ie non-Afghan fighters.
It’s also clear that there is a disconnect between the more moderate, pragmatic words spoken by the Taliban’s front men – the negotiators and the spokesmen on the one hand – and some of the barbarous acts of revenge taking place on the ground.
On 12 August, as the Taliban were still advancing on the capital, the US charge d’affaires in Kabul tweeted: “The Taliban’s statements in Doha do not resemble their actions in Badakhshan, Ghazni, Helmand & Kandahar. Attempts to monopolise power through violence, fear and war will only lead to international isolation.”
The Taliban’s focus is on ruling Afghanistan according to their strict interpretation of Sharia, Islamic law, and not beyond its borders.
But other jihadists in al-Qaeda and IS may have different ambitions beyond those borders. It is quite possible that while the new Taliban government may even want to restrain them, there are pockets of the country where their activities could go unnoticed.