The United Nations (UN) has said that the outlawed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is still active and has between 3,000 and 5,000 fighters in Afghanistan.
A report prepared by a team of UN monitors, sent to the Security Council, also warns that a Taliban-run “Afghanistan has the potential to become a safe haven for Al Qaeda and a number of terror groups with ties to the Central Asia region and beyond”.
The US government and various UN agencies have long claimed that Al Qaeda has been active in Afghanistan since the beginning of the Afghan jihad. US officials also say that despite a public pledge to curb Al Qaeda activities, Afghanistan’s new Taliban leaders are not doing so, a claim the Taliban deny.
The 29th report of the UN Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team deals with a wide range of terrorist groups active in South Asia and beyond and covers the events that happened between June and December 2021.
The committee monitors the activities of major militant groups like Al Qaeda, Taliban and various factions of the militant Islamic State (IS) group, which is also known as Daesh. The committee is required to ensure that UN-mandated sanctions on these groups are implemented.
The team describes the return of the Taliban to power in Afghanistan as “the most significant event” in the country’s recent history, which will have far-reaching implications for all.
The militant Islamic State of Khorasan or IS-K is another group that the report focuses on, noting that it “controls limited territory”, but has “a continuing ability to mount sophisticated attacks” across the region. Its ability to operate across borders adds to “the complexity of the security situation in Afghanistan”, the report warns.
In its chapter on South Asia, the report deals with the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan and its impact on other countries in the region. The report includes TTP among the groups that have had close working relations with all major terrorist groups in the region, including the Taliban, Al Qaeda and IS-K.
The report assesses “the number of TTP fighters at between 3,000 and 5,500 in Afghanistan, with Noor Wali Mehsud remaining as their leader”.
It notes that Afghanistan’s new Taliban rulers are mediating a truce between TTP and Pakistan and this mediation has “led to a reduction in TTP attacks against Pakistan”. The negotiators also discussed the presence of TTP family members in Afghanistan, noting that they “wish to resettle in Pakistan under assurances that they would reintegrate peacefully into local communities”.
The report says that despite a strong denial by the Taliban, Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), led by Osama Mehmood and his deputy Atif Yahya Ghouri, “retains a presence in Afghanistan”.
The report identifies the provinces of Ghazni, Helmand, Kandahar, Nimruz, Paktika and Zabul as places where the group fought alongside the Taliban against the ousted Afghan government. The AQIS has between 200 and 400 fighters, mainly from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Myanmar and Pakistan.
The report also highlights the activities of a group — known as the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) or Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) — that’s struggling to start an insurgency in China. The group has between 1,000 and 3,000 fighters in Syria, mostly located in Idlib, Aleppo, Ladhiqiyah and Hama governorates.
The UN team reports that ETIM/TIP members “frequently visited the Wakhan corridor, calling for a return to Xinjiang for jihad”. The group closely collaborates with Al Qaeda, TTP and Jamaat Ansarullah to “plan attacks on Chinese interests in Pakistan, Tajikistan and elsewhere”, the report warns.
“ISIL (IS) is taking advantage of the turmoil in Afghanistan, including by recruiting ETIM/TIP fighters under the leadership of a Uighur team, in an attempt to expand the organisation and support the group’s cause,” the report warns.
The report points out that the perpetrator of the IS-K bombing of the Gozar-i-Sayed Abad Mosque in Kunduz on Oct 8 was a Uighur fighter from the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region of China.
Some member states reported to the UN team that, following the Taliban’s return to power, ETIM/TIP fighters were relocated from their traditional stronghold in Badakhshan, on the border with China, to Baghlan, Takhar and other provinces, “as part of the Taliban’s efforts to both protect and restrain the group”. The group has between 200 and 700 fighters in this area.
The report notes that on Aug 13, Al Qaeda released a statement congratulating the Taliban on its victory. Since then, Al Qaeda “has maintained a strategic silence, likely an effort not to compromise Taliban’s efforts to gain international recognition and legitimacy”, the report adds.
UN monitors believe that Al Qaeda is still recovering from a series of leadership losses and lacks the capability to conduct high-profile attacks overseas. Amin Muhammad ul-Haq Saam Khan, who coordinated security for Osama bin Laden, returned to his home in Afghanistan in late August.
One member state reported that Osama bin Laden’s son, Abdallah, visited Afghanistan in October for meetings with the Taliban. Al Qaeda leader Aiman al-Zawahiri was “alive as recently as January 2021, but is in poor health”, the report claims.