The United Nations has warned in a new report that the threat from terror groups such as Daesh and Al-Qaeda is expanding in many places in Afghanistan. It said the security situation remains fragile with uncertainty surrounding the peace process and a risk of further deterioration.
The report by the UN Security Council, published on Thursday, said that despite territorial, leadership, manpower and financial losses during 2020 in Kunar and Nangarhar provinces, Daesh’s Khorasan branch, or ISIL-K, has moved into other provinces of Afghanistan, including Nuristan, Badghis, Sar-e-Pul, Baghlan, Badakhshan, Kunduz and Kabul, where the fighters have formed sleeper cells, Tolo News reported.
The report said that the group has strengthened its positions in and around Kabul, where it conducts most of its attacks, targeting minorities, activists, government employees and personnel of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces.
The report said that most recently, Daesh had claimed responsibility for the brutal attack of June 8, wherein 10 humanitarian deminers working with HALO Trust in Baghlan Province were killed and 16 others were injured.
Tolo News said that in its efforts to resurge, the ISIL-K has prioritised the recruitment and training of new supporters; its leaders also hope to attract intransigent Taliban and other militants who reject the Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan between the US and the Taliban, and to recruit fighters from the Syrian Arab Republic, Iraq and other conflict zones.
The report stated that the estimates of the strength of Daesh’s Khorasan branch range widely, with one member state reporting between 500 and 1,500 fighters and another stating that it may rise to as many as 10,000 over the medium term.
“One member state stressed that ISIL-K was largely underground and clandestine,” the report said., adding: “Its leader, Shahab al-Muhajir, alias Sanaullah, cooperates with Sheikh Tamim, head of the al-Sadiq office.”
The report said that Tamim and his office are tasked by the Daesh core group to oversee the network connecting the Khorasan branch with Daesh presences in the wider region.
The UN report said that as reported by the UN Monitoring Team in its 12th report to the Security Council Committee established pursuant to Resolution 1988 (2011), Al-Qaeda is present in at least 15 Afghan provinces, primarily in the eastern, southern and south-eastern regions.
The report said that Al-Qaeda’s weekly Thabat newsletter reports on its operations inside Afghanistan.
Tolo News said that the Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) operates under Taliban protection from Kandahar, Helmand and Nimroz provinces.
Since the death of Asim Umar in 2019, AQIS has been led by Osama Mahmood, the report said, adding that the group consists mainly of Afghan and Pakistani nationals, as also individuals from Bangladesh, India and Myanmar.
On March 30, AQIS commander Dawlat Bek Tajiki (alias Abu Mohammad al-Tajiki) was killed by Afghan forces in Gyan district of Paktika province.
“Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri is assessed by the member states to be alive but ailing in Afghanistan. SayfAl Adl, his most likely successor, is reported to remain in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” the report stated.
The member states differ as to what Al Adl’s options would be if he is called upon to succeed al-Zawahiri, but most assess that he would have to move as basing himself in Afghanistan might not be an option, the report said.
The leadership succession calculations of Al-Qaeda are complicated by the peace process in Afghanistan where, under the Doha agreement of February 2020, the Taliban is committed to suppressing any international terrorist threat, the report said, but added that it is unclear whether Sayf-Al Adl would be able to travel to Afghanistan to take up the position of the leader of Al-Qaeda.
The report mentioned that some member states point to his history of living and operating from Africa and assess that he might choose to base himself there.
The report also said that the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, IMU, faces financial difficulties and a Taliban that is less accommodating than it used to be, Tolo News said.