Islamic State unit recruiting Taliban fighters who rejected peace deal: Report
The report also said that the group has now strengthened its positions ‘in and around’ Kabul.
A report by the United Nations Security Council claimed that the leaders of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant-Khorasan are trying to make fresh recruitment by attracting Taliban fighters who have rejected the US and Afghan-Taliban peace deal.
The 28th report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team voiced concern over the fragile situation in Afghanistan and said it fears the further deterioration of the situation owing to this new development.
The report also said that the group has now strengthened its positions ‘in and around’ Kabul from where it conducts attacks against minorities, activists, government employees and personnel of the Afghan National Defence and security personnel.
The report points out that Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant-Khorasan has moved into other provinces and have formed sleeper cells in Nuristan, Badghis, Sari Pul, Baghlan, Badakhshan, Kunduz and Kabul. The sleeper cells were formed despite territorial, leadership, manpower and financial losses during 2020 in Kunar and Nangarhar provinces.
The report highlighted that Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant-Khorasan (ISIL-K) prioritised efforts to resurge and started recruiting and training new supporters. “Its leaders also hope to attract intransigent Taliban and other militants who reject the Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan between the United States of America and the Taliban and to recruit fighters from the Syrian Arab Republic, Iraq and other conflict zones,” it said.
Estimates of the strength of ISIL-K range widely as one member state reported 500-1,500 fighters while another unit said it could rise to as many as 10,000 over the medium term. Another member state of the UN said that ISIL-K continues to be ‘underground and clandestine’. The report said Shahab al-Muhajir cooperates with Sheikh Tamim, who heads the al-Sadiq office. Tamim’s office is tasked with building networks to connect ISIL-K with ISIL presences in the wider region.
Threat from the Al-Qaeda
Al-Qaeda continues to maintain its presence in at least 15 Afghan provinces, primarily in the eastern, southern and south-eastern regions, according to the Monitoring Team as reported in the 12th report to the Security Council Committee in June. The AQIS or Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent continues to operate under Taliban protection in Kandahar, Helmand and Nimruz provinces in Afghanistan. The report said that the AQIS is now led by Osama Mahmood, who is still unlisted. The AQIS consists of Afghan and Pakistani nationals but Indians, Bangladeshis and Myanmarese have also joined its ranks.
It also said that Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri’s status remains unknown and he is suspected to be ‘alive but ailing’ in Afghanistan. The Al-Qaeda earlier this year tried to showcase al-Zawahiri in a video where he is seen threatening Myanmar but member states believe that dated footage was used which further adds to the ‘rumours of his decline or demise’. The report suggests that Al-Qaeda has suffered even more severe leadership attrition.
The member states reported that Zawahiri’s successor could be Mohammed Salahaldin Abd El Halim Zidane aka Sayf-Al Adl. Al Adl is currently located in Iran, according to the report.
“Sayf- Al Adl, his most likely successor, is reported to remain in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Member States differ as to what Al Adl’s options would be if he was called upon to succeed al-Zawahiri, but most assess that he would have to move and that basing himself in Afghanistan might not be an option,” the report said.
Since the Taliban is committed to suppressing any international terrorist threat due to the agreements in the peace deal, the leadership succession process within Al-Qaeda remains complicated. Some member states cast doubt that Al Adl may not be travelling to Afghanistan to assume his role but might choose to base himself in Africa. The report highlighted that the ISIL and Al-Qaeda affiliates still continue to operate in central, south and southeast Asia notwithstanding key leadership losses in some cases and sustained pressure from security forces.
Pakistan’s Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) also is rising as a threat in the region and has led to a rise in cross-border attacks after the unification of splinter groups. The TTP has also increased its financial resources from extortion, smuggling and taxes.
(with inputs from PTI)