- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 26, 2021

Taliban leaders tried to rewrite history this week, arguing that there is “no proof” longtime al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was involved with the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

In an interview with NBC News that aired Wednesday night, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid mostly deflected questions about whether the Islamist group can and will guarantee that Afghanistan won’t be used as a base of operations for terrorist organizations moving forward.

Instead, he argued that bin Laden’s involvement in the 9/11 attacks — a central part of the U.S. rationale for invading Afghanistan 20 years ago and the subsequent 10-year manhunt for the terrorist leader — has never been proven.

“When Osama bin Laden became an issue for the Americans, he was in Afghanistan. Although there was no proof he was involved, now we have given promises that Afghan soil won’t be used against anyone,” the Taliban spokesman said. “There is no evidence even after 20 years of war, we have no proof he was involved.”

Given that bin Laden wasn’t involved in planning the attacks, Mr. Mujahid said, the U.S. had no reason to invade Afghanistan and topple the Taliban government, which had ruled the country from 1996 until October 2001.

“There was no justification for this war. It was an excuse for war,” he said.

The U.S.-backed Afghan government collapsed Aug. 15 after a major military offensive by the Taliban. In the days since, the U.S. and its allies have rushed to evacuate tens of thousands of people from the Kabul airport before President Biden’s self-imposed Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline.

The Taliban is operating increasingly tight checkpoints around the airport perimeter.

As for bin Laden, U.S. intelligence and countless other sources say the late al Qaeda leader spent years in Afghanistan. Bin Laden even boasted about the 9/11 attacks in videotaped messages.

He successfully hid from American troops for nearly a decade before ultimately being killed during a raid by U.S. special forces at his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in May 2011.

• Ben Wolfgang can be reached at bwolfgang@washingtontimes.com.

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