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300 LeT terrorists active in Afghanistan: US report

LeT, designated a global terror organisation by the US and the UN, was responsible for the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks that killed 166 people. The US has offered a $10 million bounty for the group’s founder, Hafiz Saeed, whose bid to be removed from a list of sanctioned terrorists was rejected by the UN in March.

world Updated: May 22, 2019 23:33 IST
Rezaul H Laskar
Rezaul H Laskar
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
US,UN,LeT
The report for the period from January 1 to March 31 summarises significant events related to Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, the official name for US-led military operations in Afghanistan.(GETTY IMAGES)

The US department of defense has included Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) among the three terrorist organisations posing the greatest threat to foreign troops in Afghanistan, with at least 300 LeT operatives active in the war-torn country.

LeT, designated a global terror organisation by the US and the UN, was responsible for the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks that killed 166 people. The US has offered a $10 million bounty for the group’s founder, Hafiz Saeed, whose bid to be removed from a list of sanctioned terrorists was rejected by the UN in March.

There have been reports of LeT cadres fighting alongside the Afghan Taliban for more than a decade, though the report by the lead inspector general of the US department of defense’s office of inspector general is perhaps the first public acknowledgement of the threat posed by the group in Afghanistan.

The report for the period from January 1 to March 31 summarises significant events related to Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, the official name for US-led military operations in Afghanistan.

The report states the department of defense “identified the Haqqani Network, the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), and Lashkar-e Tayyiba as groups that present the greatest threat to US and allied forces in Afghanistan”.

In its estimates of the size of terror groups in Afghanistan, the report states some 300 LeT fighters are active in the country. The Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, another Pakistan-based group that is a faction of the Pakistani Taliban, was estimated to have 200 fighters in Afghanistan.

LeT, formed in the 1980s as a militant arm of Markaz Dawa Wal-Irshad, is one of the largest terror groups currently operating from Pakistani soil. Over the years, its operatives have been linked to terrorist activities in Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Europe, apart from their primary target, India.

Though Pakistan banned LeT in 2002, the group has continued to recruit, raise funds and operate a large network of camps, madrassas and other facilities across the country. Mounting pressure from the Financial Action Task Force and Western powers resulted in Pakistan banning two LeT front organisations – Jamaat-ud-Dawah (JuD) and Falah-e-Insaniyat Foundation (FIF) – only in March this year.

The US report said the conflict in Afghanistan was continuing despite talks between the special representative for Afghan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, and Taliban representatives, who had reached an “agreement in draft” on a framework for peace.

Under the draft agreement, the Taliban will deny safe haven to terror groups in Afghanistan, and the US will withdraw its forces. “While the ‘agreement in draft’ is an important milestone in the negotiation process, the peace talks could break down at any time,” the report said.

The report estimated the Khorsan wing of Islamic State, Haqqani Network and Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan each had 3,000 to 5,000 fighters in Afghanistan, while al-Qaeda had about 300 fighters.

“The presence of terrorist groups in Afghanistan, particularly al-Qaeda and ISIS-K, remains a central focus of the [Operation Freedom’s Sentinel] mission and has emerged as one of the key concerns in the ongoing peace negotiations. As the peace talks continue, the questions of whether the Taliban can help influence and deny sanctuary to these groups, and the extent to which an ongoing US counterterrorism presence may be required, have become more prominent,” the report said.

First Published: May 22, 2019 23:33 IST