Tal­iban, ISIS vie to claim car­nage

An­a­lysts say Afghan ter­ror groups at war with each other


IS­LAM­ABAD — The Is­lamic State mil­i­tant group and the Tal­iban are com­pet­ing to take credit for a spike in vi­o­lence in Afghanistan over the past month, and an­a­lysts say both in­sur­gent groups are growing in strength as se­cu­rity forces wither un­der their re­lent­less at­tacks and a feud­ing gov­ern­ment strug­gles to win over ci­ti­zens.

Still, the two in­sur­gent groups em­brace dif­fer­ent agen­das and are at war with each other as well as the Afghan gov­ern­ment, an­a­lysts say.

Re­cent large-scale at­tacks, which have in­cluded both sui­cide bomb­ings and small-arms fire, have left nearly 200 peo­ple dead and hun­dreds more wounded. In­sur­gents have tar­geted seem­ingly heav­ily se­cured ar­eas in the heart of the Afghan cap­i­tal, in­clud­ing an Afghan mil­i­tary academy on Mon­day and a ho­tel, owned by the gov­ern­ment and fre­quented by for­eign­ers, ear­lier this month.

On Tues­day, Afghanistan’s dwin­dling prospects for peace took an­other down­ward turn with bel­li­cose mes­sages from both Afghan of­fi­cials and Tal­iban lead­ers.

“Be­lieve me, I will take re­venge,” Pres­i­dent Ashraf Ghani said af­ter an evening prayer ser­vice in the cap­i­tal. The coun­try’s en­e­mies, he said, “should know that Afghans do not have a pres­i­dent who will give in.”

In a sep­a­rate for­mal state­ment, Ghani’s chief spokesman said that by launch­ing such hor­rific vi­o­lence, “the Tal­iban has lost the op­por­tu­nity for peace talks. From now on, peace must be sought on the bat­tle­ground.”

The Afghan leader’s abrupt shift af­ter months of call­ing for peace talks echoed re­marks made by Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump in Wash­ing­ton on Mon­day, re­act­ing to the se­ries of deadly in­sur­gent at­tacks.

“I don’t think we’re pre­pared to talk right now,” the U.S. pres­i­dent told reporters in Wash­ing­ton on Mon­day be­fore a White House meet­ing with United Na­tions Se­cu­rity Coun­cil mem­bers. “It’s a whole dif­fer­ent fight over there. They’re killing peo­ple left and right. In­no­cent peo­ple are be­ing killed left and right.”

Us­ing an am­bu­lance to hide their deadly cargo, in­sur­gents slipped passed check­points in Kabul’s heav­ily for­ti­fied cen­ter on Satur­day to kill more than 100 peo­ple. They also tar­geted an in­ter­na­tional aid or­ga­ni­za­tion in east­ern Jalalabad and a Shi­ite cul­tural cen­ter in Kabul.

Afghan se­cu­rity forces seem pow­er­less.

In­sur­gents share the same goal of dele­git­imiz­ing the gov­ern­ments they are fight­ing against, said An­drew Wilder, vice pres­i­dent of Asia pro­grams at the U.S. In­sti­tute of Peace. How­ever, in Afghanistan, the sim­i­lar­ity be­tween the Is­lamic State and the Tal­iban ends there. Be­yond top­pling the Afghan gov­ern­ment, the Is­lamic State af­fil­i­ate and the Tal­iban have di­ver­gent goals, and

where the Tal­iban have been seen as pos­si­ble ne­go­ti­a­tion part­ners in a search for peace, the Is­lamic State has not.

The two groups have oc­ca­sion­ally clashed on the bat­tle­field.

“The Tal­iban and [the Is­lamic State] are clearly com­peti­tors in the Afghan arena,” said Thomas Rut­tig, whose Afghan An­a­lysts net­work has deep knowl­edge of the coun­try and has con­ducted na­tion­wide stud­ies into a myr­iad of is­sues con­found­ing the coun­try, in­clud­ing the Is­lamic State and Tal­iban.

“The Tal­iban I see as ‘na­tional Is­lamists’ while the [Is­lamic State] is ‘In­ter­na­tion­al­ist,’” he said, dis­miss­ing re­ports of col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween the two in­sur­gent groups, at­tribut­ing them to ru­mors and bick­er­ing in north­ern Afghanistan within the Tal­iban.

Rut­tig said Tal­iban fighters in north­ern Afghanistan re­cently flew the Is­lamic State flag af­ter the Tal­iban lead­er­ship or­dered them to hand over their tax col­lec­tion rev­enue to the govern­ing Tal­iban shura, or coun­cil. A ma­jor source of rev­enue for the Tal­iban is the tax or tolls they charge res­i­dents for safe pas­sage or to move le­gal as well as il­le­gal com­modi­ties to mar­ket.

While loosely con­structed, the Tal­iban since the death of its supreme leader Mul­lah Mo­hammed Omar sev­eral years ago are mostly con­sist of eth­nic Pash­tuns and Arab-speak­ing na­tion­als with ties to al-Qaida.

The strong­est fight­ing force within the Tal­iban is the Haqqani net­work, which has been blamed for the most au­da­cious at­tacks in Kabul.

The Haqqani net­work has his­tor­i­cal ties to Pak­istan’s pow­er­ful ISI spy agency, and both the United States and Afghanistan ac­cuse Pak­istan of pro­vid­ing sanc­tu­ary for Tal­iban fighters, a claim Is­lam­abad de­nies. Pak­istan in turn has blamed some of the most hor­rific at­tacks in Pak­istan on Is­lamic State af­fil­i­ate in­sur­gents in Afghanistan, ac­cus­ing Kabul of al­low­ing them space to plot their at­tacks.

Mean­while, the Is­lamic State af­fil­i­ate known as Is­lamic State in Kho­rasan Prov­ince, named for the an­cient re­gion that once in­cluded Afghanistan, parts of Iran and Cen­tral Asia, is a toxic mix of dis­grun­tled Tal­iban; Pak­istani Tal­iban, who have sworn al­le­giance to the Is­lamic State against Pak­istan; as well as Uzbeks, mostly from the Is­lamic Move­ment of Uzbek­istan ter­ror group.

The suc­cess of the U.S. and its al­lies in driv­ing Is­lamic State fighters out of Iraq and Syria has pushed many to­ward Afghanistan, said Brian Glyn Wil­liams, au­thor of Counter Ji­had, The Amer­i­can Mil­i­tary Ex­pe­ri­ence in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.

Bol­ster­ing their ranks, he saIn­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Kathy Gan­non of The As­so­ci­ated Press and by Pamela Con­sta­ble of The Wash­ing­ton Post.


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