In Afghanistan, Al-Qaida militants and allied transnational groups are aiding the Taliban’s rapid advance.
The Taliban have made rapid territorial gains, capturing swathes of the countryside, towns and border crossings, mainly with the support of al-Qaida and allied groups, including the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), a Uyghur Muslim rebel group; Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP); and Central Asian militant outfits such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and Jamaat Ansarullah, militants outfit also known as the Tajik Taliban, Nikkei Asia has reported.
The Taliban insists the reports are untrue. “We do not have foreign fighters in our ranks,” Suhail Shaheen, a Taliban representative, told Nikkei Asia. “Such reports or claims are aimed at misleading the people of the world about on-the-ground realities in Afghanistan.”
But government officials, tribal elders and local journalists say foreign fighters, particularly Tajiks, Uzbeks, Pakistanis and Uyghurs linked with al-Qaida allies have been spotted in Taliban ranks during recent advances in Afghanistan.
Since mid-April, the Taliban have launched more than 5,500 attacks in 31 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces “with the direct support of more than 10,000 foreign fighters representing 20 groups, including al-Qaida, ETIM, and TTP, and IMU,” Afghan Ambassador Ghulam Isaczai said at a Friday briefing at the U.N. Security Council.
“The link between the Taliban and the transnational terrorist groups is stronger today than at any point in recent times,” Isaczai was quoted as saying by Nikkei Asia.
Afghanistan’s Ministry of Defense on Saturday claimed that 30 al-Qaida fighters were among the 112 militants killed in airstrikes launched by Afghan forces to protect Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand Province, from the Taliban.
“On a daily basis, Afghan security forces kill al-Qaida-linked militants, who are fighting alongside Taliban militants,” said an official at the ministry who requested anonymity for security reasons.
Security experts say the Taliban has deep ties to al-Qaida, particularly al-Qaida in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), the outfit’s regional chapter, and offers them protection.
The Japanese publication quoting experts further reported that the deal stuck with the U.S. in February 2020 has not altered the relationship between al-Qaida and the Taliban. Since then, several high-profile al-Qaida leaders — including Husam Abd al-Rauf, a senior Egyptian al-Qaida’s leader; Muhammad Hanif, AQIS’s deputy chief; and Dawlat Bek Tajiki, a top al-Qaida operative — were killed in Taliban-controlled areas in Afghanistan, indicating that the Taliban still hosts the group’s leaders and fighters.