A damning new United Nations Security Council report claims that terrorist group ISIS-K, the Afghan ISIS affiliate, is the most serious current terrorist threat operating in Afghanistan, with an estimated 4,000 to 6,000 fighters. Since the country fell, ISIS-K has benefited from increased operational capabilities and freedom of movement inside Afghanistan.
Most troubling for the United States and its allies is the report’s claim that the relationship between the Taliban and al Qaeda and other terrorist groups remains “strong and symbiotic.” Following the collapse of the U.S.-backed Ashraf Ghani government in August 2021, Taliban spokespersons made assurances that Afghanistan would not once again become a safe haven for terrorist groups, and they would not allow any terror group to stage an attack from Afghan territory.
The 2020 Doha Agreement, negotiated under former President Trump, laid the groundwork for the withdrawal of all U.S. forces in exchange for a pledge from the Taliban to prevent any terrorist organization from using Afghan soil to threaten or attack the United States or its allies.
The report states that not only is al Qaeda’s relationship with the Taliban strong, but al Qaeda protects senior Taliban officials and has attempted to infiltrate the ranks of the government. In at least two cases, two Taliban provisional governors are affiliated with al Qaeda and another Taliban associated with the group is the deputy director of the general directorate of intelligence. It’s also confirmed through Interlocutors that the Taliban provided al Qaeda with monthly “welfare payments,” with some of the money going to fighters in affiliated groups.
“The time has come for the international community to acknowledge the gravity of Afghanistan’s threats and its fragile state. It is crucial to abandon failed strategies that have failed to bring about any positive changes in the past two years or address the imminent dangers originating from Afghanistan,” Nazary said.
The U.N. report also highlights divisions within the Taliban. It notes that the group is battling internal divides between factions in Kandahar that are isolationist, religiously conservative, and unconcerned with international perception, and the power-center based in Kabul that tried to rebrand the Taliban as more pragmatic and open to engagement internationally.
The fragmentation focuses on the distribution of power among state and provincial officials, with conflict between acting Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani and acting First Deputy Prime Minister Mullah Baradar.
The report also notes that al Qaeda uses Afghanistan as a logistical hub to recruit new fighters and is quietly rebuilding its external operations capabilities, in direct contradiction to the Taliban’s 2021 pledges to the international community.
Newly recruited personnel joining Taliban security forces demonstrate their skills during their graduation ceremony in Herat on Feb. 9, 2023. (Mohsen Karimi/AFP via Getty Images)
The Taliban rejected the reports findings and said the claims are untrue. “This report is not based on ground realities. There is no recruitment center or funding and training centers of al Qaeda in Afghanistan. This is just a claim and accusation,” a Taliban spokesperson told Fox News Digital.
The report notes that al Qaeda has become a more decentralized organization since being decimated after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and direct links and contacts with regional branches are weaker, which suggests their ability to coordinate large-scale attacks across affiliates is low. In the long term, al Qaeda will be able to capitalize and strengthen on continued instability in Afghanistan, the report states.
The NRF, viewed as the most formidable Afghan resistance unit, has been asking for greater assistance and support in their efforts to take on the Taliban, but such pleas have so far fallen on deaf ears.