Pakistan-based terror groups such as Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), led by 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks mastermind Hafiz Saeed, maintain their training camps in some provinces of Afghanistan and some of them are directly under the Taliban control, according to a UN report.
The 13th report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team cites a UN Member State as saying that JeM, a Deobandi group ideologically closer to the Taliban “maintains eight training camps in Nangarhar, three of which are directly under Taliban control.”
India’s Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador T.S. Tirumurti, in his capacity as Chair of the Taliban Sanctions Committee, also known as the 1988 Sanctions Committee, transmitted the report to be "brought to the attention of the members of the Security Council and issued as a document of the Council." The report said that Jaish-e-Mohammed, a Deobandi group led by Masood Azhar, is ideologically closer to the Taliban. Qari Ramazan is the newly appointed head of JeM in Afghanistan.
It added that LeT is described in the previous Monitoring Team reports as having provided finance and training expertise to Taliban operations.
“Within Afghanistan, according to one Member State, it is led by Mawlawi Yousuf,” the report said, adding that in October 2021, according to one Member State, another LeT leader, Mawlawi Assadullah, met with Taliban Deputy Interior Minister Noor Jalil.
The same Member State reported that in January 2022, a Taliban delegation visited a training camp used by LeT in the Haska Mena district of Nangarhar.
"The group was said to maintain three camps in Kunar and Nangarhar. Previous LeT members have included Aslam Farooqi and Ejaz Ahmad Ahangar (a.k.a. Abu Usman al-Kashmiri), both of whom joined ISIL-K,” the report said.
Another Member State said that there was no evidence of the presence of JeM and LeT in the region as a consequence of effective security operations targeting them, according to the report.
The report further said that the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) constitutes the largest component of foreign terrorist fighters in Afghanistan, with their number estimated to be several thousand.
Other groups include the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Jamaat Ansarullah and the LeT, with each numbering in the few hundreds.
It said the TTP, led by Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud, has “arguably benefitted” most of all the foreign extremist groups in Afghanistan from the Taliban takeover. It has conducted numerous attacks and operations in Pakistan.
The TTP also continues to exist as a stand-alone force, rather than feeling pressure to merge its fighters into Afghan Taliban units, as is the prospect for most foreign terrorist fighters. The group is estimated to consist of 3,000 to 4,000 armed fighters located along the east and southeast Afghanistan-Pakistan border areas, the report said.
According to one Member State, control of the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Refugees and Repatriations gives the Haqqani Network further points of contact with the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan, it said.
“Sirajuddin Haqqani has reportedly been relied upon more than anyone else in the de facto administration to act as an intermediary between TTP and Pakistan. Haqqani mediations have not led to a sustainable ceasefire, but are a further indication of Mr. Sirajuddin’s central role within the Taliban as a mediator and figure of authority among rank-and-file of TTP and other mainly Pashtun groups in eastern Afghanistan,” the report said.
“The Haqqani Network is still regarded as having the closest links to al-Qaeda…The group continues to be the trusted partner for local facilitation of safe havens and support for the al-Qaeda core, including by maintaining ties with so-called ‘legacy al-Qaeda’: those who long ago established relations with the late Jalaluddin Haqqani and to whom the Haqqanis feel indebted for supporting them and the Taliban,” the report said.
The report noted that following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August last year, the Haqqani Network “moved quickly” to secure control of certain key portfolios and ministries: interior, intelligence, passports and migration. “Prominent de facto ministerial positions secured by the Haqqani Network include those occupied by de facto Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani and de facto Minister for Refugees Khalil Ahmed Haqqani,” it said.
“The Haqqani Network has also become the best militarily equipped faction and controls a number of armed formations, including the elite Badri 313 Battalion. The Haqqani Network now largely controls security in Afghanistan, including the security of the capital, Kabul,” the report said.
The 11th report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team had said that among those groups posing a security threat, Afghan officials highlighted Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Taiba, groups on which the Monitoring Team has written in the previous reports.
It had been said that the presence of these groups is centred in the eastern provinces of Kunar, Nangarhar and Nuristan, where they operate under the umbrella of the Afghan Taliban.
The 11th report had added that according to Afghan interlocutors, JeM and LeT facilitated the trafficking of terrorist fighters into Afghanistan, who act as advisers, trainers and specialists in improvised explosive devices.
Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan also maintains a presence in Lal Pura District, near the border area of Mohmand Darah, Pakistan. In Kunar Province, LeT retains a further 220 fighters and JeM has a further 30, all of whom are dispersed within Taliban forces, the report added.
Refocusing of terror group from Afghanistan to Kashmir
A change in the name of the Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) magazine “suggests a refocusing” of the terror group from Afghanistan to Kashmir, the same report has said.
The report said that being subordinate to the Al-Qaeda core, the AQIS is maintaining a low profile in Afghanistan, where the majority of its fighters are located. AQIS is reported to have 180 to 400 fighters, with estimates by member states inclining toward the lower figure.
“Fighters included nationals from Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, and Pakistan and were located in Ghazni, Helmand, Kandahar, Nimruz, Paktika and Zabul Provinces.
It also added that AQIS capabilities are assessed as “still weakened” from losses as a result of the October 2015 joint United States-Afghan raid in Kandahar’s Shorabak district. AQIS has also been forced by financial constraints to adopt a less aggressive posture.
“As with Al-Qaeda core, new circumstances in Afghanistan may allow the group to reorganise itself. The 2020 name change of the AQIS magazine from “Nawa-i Afghan Jihad” to “Nawa-e-Gazwah-e-Hind” suggests a refocusing of AQIS from Afghanistan to Kashmir. The magazine reminded its readers that al-Zawahiri had called for “jihad” in Kashmir following the Da’esh Sri Lanka attacks of April 2019,” the report said, nine months after the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan in August last year.
In the report, member states also reported that interdictions of Afghan-origin drugs have increased significantly in the second half of 2021, suggesting less effective counter-narcotics efforts within Afghanistan or heightened activity in anticipation of a ban.
“Three tonnes of Afghan-origin heroin were seized in India in September 2021. One member state reported that smuggling via the Islamic Republic of Iran to Turkey and Europe has increased by up to 50% since the Taliban assumed power.” It said the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant-Khorasan (ISIL-K) concentrated their attacks on the Taliban after the August 15 takeover of Afghanistan, but their activity declined towards the end of 2021, possibly because of the winter weather.
“Neither ISIL-K nor Al-Qaeda is believed to be capable of mounting international attacks before 2023 at the earliest, regardless of their intent or of whether the Taliban acts to restrain them. But their presence, and the presence of many other terrorist groups and fighters on Afghan soil, gives cause for concern to the neighbouring member states and the wider international community,” the report said.
It added that the larger strategic direction of ISIL-K – whether they mean to focus on Afghanistan or prioritize the revival of an external operational capability – is unclear.
“Regardless of ISIL-K (and Al-Qaeda) intent, it will take time to achieve such a capability. Member States expect no attacks directed from Afghanistan until 2023 at the earliest, although cross-border attacks remain a possibility.” The is the first one since the August 15 takeover of Kabul by the Taliban.
It notes that the period between then and April 2022 has seen the Taliban consolidate control over Afghanistan, appointing 41 United Nations-sanctioned individuals to the Cabinet and other senior-level positions in their de facto administration. They have favoured loyalty and seniority over competence, and their decision-making has been opaque and inconsistent.
The report notes that the relationship between Al-Qaeda and the Taliban remains close and is underscored by the presence, both in Afghanistan and the region, of Al-Qaeda’s core leadership and affiliated groups, such as Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent.
The report notes that the core Al-Qaeda leadership under Aiman Muhammed Rabi al-Zawahiri is reported to remain in Afghanistan, more specifically, the eastern region from Zabul Province north towards Kunar and along the border with Pakistan.
Since August 2021, al-Zawahiri has appeared in eight videos.
Alluding to the hijab row in India, the report said that in the most recent such video of al-Zawahiri, released on April 5, by Al-Qaeda’s As-Sahab Media Foundation, al-Zawahiri “references the defiance of an Indian Muslim female in front of men protesting the hijab, an event that went viral in early February 2022.” “The video provided the first conclusive current proof of life for al-Zawahiri in recent years. The pace of recent communications suggests that he may be able to lead more effectively than was possible before the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan,” it said.
Member State estimates of ISIL-K strength range between 1,500 and 4,000 fighters, concentrated in remote areas of Kunar, Nangarhar and possibly Nuristan Province. Smaller covert cells are thought to be present in the northern provinces of Badakhshan, Faryab, Jowzjan, Kunduz and Takhar.
Geographical distance and ethnic differences (Afghan and Pakistani Pashtuns in the east and ethnic Tajik and Uzbeks in the north) may mean that various ISIL-K presences around Afghanistan struggle to coordinate with each other, as has been the case historically.