Former Saudi intelligence chief calls Taliban’s return and its alliance with al-Qaeda ‘worrisome’

Saudi Arabia's former powerful intelligence chief Prince Turki Bin Faisal has called the Taliban’s return in Afghanistan “worrisome”, mentioning the group’s continued ties with al-Qaeda, which had once posed the greatest threat to the Gulf kingdom

Sep 14, 2021
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Saudi Arabia's former powerful intelligence chief Prince Turki Bin Faisal

Saudi Arabia's former powerful intelligence chief Prince Turki Bin Faisal has called the Taliban’s return in Afghanistan “worrisome”, mentioning the group’s continued ties with al-Qaeda, which had once posed the greatest threat to the Gulf kingdom. In an interview to CNBC International, Prince Turki said long before al-Qaeda became a threat to the West, it had been destabilizing Saudi Arabia in the early 1990s--the reason why Osama Bin Laden was ordered to leave the country. 

“I am concerned about the Taliban’s alliance with al-Qaeda,” he said in the latest interview to CNBC news anchor Hadley Gamble. 

Advance US weapons worth billions of dollars fell into the hands of the Taliban following the fall of the US-backed Afghan government. Turki, mentioning the Taliban’s ties with al-Qaeda, said, “It is very worrisome….Also worrisome (because) al-Qaeda targeted the Kingdom first than anybody else.” 

Western-educated Turki became the head of the General Intelligence Department (GID), the external intelligence agency of Saudi Arabia, at the age of 34 and went on to head the agency for over two decades, becoming one of the longest-serving heads of intelligence agency anywhere in the world. He resigned from the post just ten days before the 9/11 attack - in which 14 of the 19 hijackers were found to be radicalized Saudi nationals. Prince Turki, who has served as his country's ambassador to the UK and the US, is currently the chairman of King Faisal Foundation's Center for Research and Islamic Studies.  

Commenting on the ties between the Taliban and his country, he said, “Saudi Arabia had a bad history with the Taliban,” mentioning the Taliban’s relations with al-Qaeda and bin Laden. Significantly, in the late 90s, the Kingdom was among the only three countries--Pakistan and the UAE were other two--that had recognized the Taliban government in Afghanistan.

However, the Taliban’s ties with al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden later led to the breakdown of that relationship with Saudi Arabia. When Turki demanded that Osama bin Laden - who had by then moved to Afghanistan from Sudan - be handed over to Riyadh, Mullah Omar, the founder of the Taliban movement and then leader of Afghanistan, refused, forcing Riyadh to break off its relations with the Taliban. 

He called the Taliban’s return “inevitable” since the Trump administration had bypassed the Afghan government and started dealing with the Taliban, the then Ashraf Ghani's government's "enemy", directly. 

“It was inevitable that the government [Afghan] will lose its legitimacy,” he said. “The closest ally of the government [the US] talking to the government’s enemy [the Taliban]. So it was inevitable that the Taliban had been selected by the US to be the successor to this government.”

In the interview, Turki called the US withdrawal “surprising,” and termed it a mix of “incompetence, carelessness, and bad management.”

When asked if the US withdrawal from Afghanistan will have the same effects that the fall of Saigon in 1975 had in South-East Asia, he said, “Don’t know if it will same effects in the region.” However, many experts have already been warning of the domino effect after the Taliban victory in Afghanistan.