IS-K biggest threat to Afghanistan’s national security, say Taliban commanders

·3 min read
Blast in Jalalabad - AFP
Blast in Jalalabad - AFP

Afghanistan's branch of the Islamic State group poses the most serious security threat to the new Taliban regime, Taliban commanders who have fought the jihadists have told The Telegraph.

Two commanders with extensive experience fighting the group appeared to reject the Taliban government's reassurances that there is little threat from the group. Both said that, during their time fighting Islamic State, they had considered its militants a tougher adversary than the former Afghan government's forces.

Their comments came as the Taliban's chief spokesman downplayed the risk from the group even after it claimed responsibility for a string of bombings around Jalalabad that killed eight people at the weekend.

Zabiullah Mujahid said the Afghan affiliate of Islamic State, known as Islamic State Khorasan (IS-K), had no significant presence.

"The Isis that exists in Iraq and Syria does not exist here," he told a press conference on Tuesday. "Still, some people who may be our own Afghans have adopted the Isis mentality, which is a phenomenon that the people do not support."

The group first arrived in 2014 and quickly made inroads in eastern Afghanistan and several northern provinces. It grew via defections from militant groups, including the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban. The Afghan Taliban waged bloody campaigns against the militants.

‘They put up much more in resistance than Afghan army’

"I think for the Taliban leadership, in terms of security they are the number one threat," said Mujahid ul-Rahman, a Taliban leader from Ghazni who has fought in a specialist anti-IS-K unit.

He said he had repeatedly fought the group near Tora Bora in Nangarhar province, facing suicide bombers and stiff resistance, adding: "They put up much more in resistance than the Afghan army."

While IS-K had lost much of its territory, the group had dangerous sleeper cells and was likely to wage an urban terrorist campaign and sectarian attacks on Afghan Shia Muslims, the commander predicted.

"At the moment they are hiding, but I think they will follow the Taliban's own tactics in Kabul and other cities. For Taliban fighting with a visible Isis, it is easy to attack them but fighting with an invisible Isis is a challenge for the Taliban regime," he said.

"I think they will attack our Shia brothers and, of course, now it is the Taliban's responsibility to fight them to secure Afghan national security."

‘They are evil and should not be ignored’

Another commander called Qazi, from Kunar, said he had fought IS-K militants in the province's mountains as recently as early last month.

"They are well-trained fighters and they put up much more solid resistance than the previous government’s soldiers. They are well equipped and have suicide bombers like us.

"They are now scared and scattered by the Taliban, but they will remain for a while. It will take some time to end Isis in Afghanistan. The Taliban will keep watching Isis as a priority. They are evil and should not be ignored."

Meanwhile, the Taliban also claimed girls' education would be resumed as soon as possible but gave no timescale. Hundreds of thousands of secondary school girls are currently being kept at home, in an echo of the Taliban's 1990s ban on female education. Boys, however, have been allowed to resume their studies.

"The work is continuing over the issues of education and work of women and girls," Mr Mujahid said. "More time is needed ... instructions on how to deal with their work, their services and their education are needed because the system has changed and an Islamic system is in place."

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