Moderated by Al-Qaeda, TTP oversaw reunification of splinter groups in Afghanistan: UN

PTI, Feb 6, 2021, 2:10 PM IST

United Nations: Moderated by Al Qaeda, terror group Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is reported to have overseen a reunification of splinter groups in Afghanistan, a development that was expected to increase the threat in the region, according to a UN report.

The report noted that Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan was responsible for over 100 “cross-border” attacks within three months last year.

The 27th report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team was submitted to the Security Council Committee concerning Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Da’esh), Al-Qaeda and associated groups.

It said that Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan was reported to have “overseen a reunification of splinter groups that took place in Afghanistan and was moderated by Al-Qaeda.”

“This was expected to increase the threat to Afghanistan, Pakistan and the region,” the report said.

It said that five entities pledged alliance to TTP in July and August, including the Shehryar Mehsud group, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, Hizb-ul-Ahrar, the Amjad Farooqi group and the Usman Saifullah group (formerly known as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi).

This increased the strength of TTP and resulted in a sharp increase in attacks in the region, the report said.

According to Member State assessments, TTP fighter strength ranges between 2,500 and 6,000 and one Member State reported that TTP was responsible for more than 100 cross-border attacks between July and October 2020, it said.

The report noted that Al-Qaeda has endured a period of “high leadership attrition”, with multiple losses in Afghanistan, Mali, Somalia, Yemen and the Governorate of Idlib in Syria.

One Member State has confirmed the death of Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah el Alfi, also known as Abu Mohamed al-Masri in August, who was the deputy of Aiman Muhammed Rabi al-Zawahiri.

“There were also reports of the death of al-Zawahiri in October, although no Member State has been able to confirm such reports to the Monitoring Team,” it said. The report said that the importance of Mohammed Salahaldin Abd El Halim Zidane, also known as Sayf-Al Adl, previously assessed to be the third most senior leader of Al-Qaeda, has likely increased.

It noted that in the event a succession to al-Zawahiri becomes necessary, it may be “difficult” for the new leader to take up residence in Afghanistan.

“…as such a move could have an impact on the interests of the Taliban, given their peace process obligations,” the report said.

“Al-Qaeda is expected by Member States to overcome these challenges, but it is not clear whether it will ultimately emerge stronger, under a more dynamic leadership,” the report said.

“The success or otherwise of the Afghan peace process will be an important factor in this, as well as in the shorter- and longer-term prospects of Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant- Khorasan (ISIL-K).”

The report added that following its setbacks in Nangarhar and Kunar Provinces, ISIL-K has suffered from degraded combat capability, reduced support on the ground and insufficient funding.

“The group seeks to restore influence, secure new locations, update its organisational structure and logistics, and identify additional financing sources,” the report said.

“Without stable support, the prospects of ISIL-K reviving its former offensive activity and holding territory appear remote, considering the pressure it faces from the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF), their allies and the Taliban,” it said.

Nevertheless, ISIL-K has claimed responsibility for many recent high-profile attacks, including the complex assault on Jalalabad City prison in August and the attack on Kabul University in November.

The report pointed out that in June 2020, Shahab al-Muhajir, also known as Sanaullah, was appointed by the ISIL core to lead ISIL-K.

The communique announcing the appointment, written in Arabic and translated into Pashto, referred to al-Muhajir as an experienced military leader and one of the “urban lions” of ISIL-K in Kabul who had been involved in guerrilla operations and the planning of suicide and complex attacks.

According to a Member State, al-Muhajir was also appointed chief of the Al-Sadiq office of ISIL, which covers the “Khorasan” region, including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, the Maldives, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the Central Asian nations. Another Member State reported that al-Muhajir had previously been a “mid-level commander in the Haqqani Network”.

He had maintained close cooperation with the entity, providing “key expertise and access to networks”, which ISIL-K required following its loss of territory and senior leadership figures.

The current number of ISIL-K fighters has fallen to between 1,000 and 2,200. Despite its significant loss of territory, ISIL-K has not been entirely eradicated from the districts of Manogay, in Kunar, and Achin, in Nangarhar.

“Sleeper cells are active in other parts of the country, particularly in Kabul, where the current commander and his overall ISIL-K deputy Salahuddin are based,” the report said.

It added that under al-Muhajir’s leadership, and based on his expertise, ISIL-K will continue to undertake terrorist attacks, predominantly in Kabul, provincial capitals and urban areas in the east of Afghanistan.

Member States have also reported “little evidence” of significant changes in relations between Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

“Al-Qaeda assesses that its future in Afghanistan depends upon its close ties to the Taliban, as well as the success of Taliban military operations in the country,” the report said.

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