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Joshua Boyle Charged With Assault: Was He Re-Enacting the Traumas of Taliban Captivity?

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Joshua Boyle, a 34-year-old Canadian man rescued last October with his American wife and three children after five years in Taliban captivity, has been arrested by Canadian authorities and charged with 15 criminal offenses, including sexual and physical assault, unlawful confinement, uttering death threats, and misleading police. All these charges relate to alleged behavior since his return from captivity Oct. 14.

A court order in Canada has prohibited publication of information that would identify any of the alleged victims. But it appears likely that Boyle’s alleged behavior is a result of the deep traumas he and his family endured during their hostage taking, some of which is now being re-enacted.

Boyle’s wife, Caitlan Coleman, said in a statement that “ultimately it is the strain and trauma he was forced to endure for so many years and the effects that had on his mental state that is most culpable for this.”

Their family clearly has been through hell. Boyle and Coleman, who was seven months pregnant at the time, were backpacking in Afghanistan’s Wardak province when they were abducted by the Taliban-linked Haqqani network. They were only freed after a shootout between the Pakistani security forces and their captors.

Upon their arrival back in Canada, Boyle spoke to journalists, reading from a statement, and blurting out that their infant daughter had been murdered and his wife raped “as retaliation for my repeated refusal to accept an offer that the criminal miscreants of the Haqqani network had made to me.”

According to Boyle, Coleman’s rape was not undertaken “as a lone action, but by one guard… assisted by the captain of the guard and supervised by the commandant.” Later, Coleman clarified that she was given a massive dose of estrogen against her will, which forced her to abort.

AS HOSTAGES, BOYLE AND COLEMAN were at times kept in cramped quarters as small as a bathtub, were drugged, forced into the trunk of a car to be transported from place to place, and abused. The son that Coleman was carrying when they were abducted was born in captivity. And then they made the decision after the loss of their unborn daughter to conceive and bear more children who were raised with them.

After the family’s release, those three surviving children showed dire signs of trauma, re-experiencing it in nightmares and flashbacks, as Boyle told Michelle Shephard of the Canadian newspaper the Toronto Star in October. He said that their 4-year-old son, Najaeshi Jonah, did not like to close his eyes because it reminded him of waking up at night to see masked men with Kalashnikovs picking him up after his parents already had been taken away while he was sleeping. Ever since, according to Boyle, their son tried to avoid closing his eyes, even to play the childhood game of peek-a-boo, in order to avoid re-experiencing the horror.

Najaeshi Jonah, according to Boyle, was also “terrified to leave the house [in Canada], even just to go on the porch… It’s as though he thinks if he ever exits this magical wonderland it will all end…”

Speaking for himself, Boyle also admitted in an interview he no longer trusted anyone after being held hostage for so long.

Speaking of his 2-year-old middle child, Dhakwoen Noah, Boyle told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Susan Ormiston that his son was experiencing traumatic flashbacks and is “nearly as distressed as he was in prison, it seems everything reminds him of the horrors of prison; cameras are equated to hostage videos, pens are equated to syringes used to drug his parents with ketamine by the guards, slamming doors is associated with cell searches or worse, it seems his healing process has barely begun—so we pray that God will hasten it.”

Even the Boyles’ months-old infant girl returned from captivity traumatized Boyle wrote in an email to the CBC: “Ma’idah Grace seems scared most of the time, but also to have discovered there are more decent people in the world than she knew; her world until last week consisted of two good brothers and two good parents and about 15 guards [who were sources of] increasing fear to her.”

THAT IT’S NOT ONLY the children who were traumatized, but also Boyle himself—who tried to appear strong and the leader of the family upon their release—now seems all too clear.

In a strange psychological twist, trauma survivors who don’t get the support and help they need to overcome the psychic pain they have endured often repeat their traumas in both symbolic and literal ways. It may be the brain trying to redo the story and get it right, or at a minimum understand, and come to grips with the past psychic pain endured.

Many wondered about the Boyle and Coleman decision to bear more children in captivity, but any psychologist knowing how the case unfolded could see that both spouses were deeply distraught over the forced abortion of their unborn daughter and Coleman’s rape. It is common after a forced or traumatic abortion to get pregnant repeatedly to try to heal that painful scar—a pattern to which the Boyle-Coleman marriage was no exception, even in captivity.

Boyle first appeared in court on New Year’s Day in Ottawa, and again on Wednesday. He will remain in custody at least until Monday. Among the charges issued against him is causing an unidentified person to ingest “a noxious thing, namely Trazodone,” an antidepressant drug.

In this case it seems that traumatic re-enactment is clearly occurring. Joshua Boyle, under deep distress, has now allegedly forced someone to take a serious medication against their will, and has allegedly sexually assaulted someone. He is even accused of keeping someone in unlawful confinement—perhaps repeating what was done to them in his own mixed-up way.

It’s not a small thing for any man, to be responsible for putting his wife in harm’s way and then being unable to save her from rape and a forced abortion. That he was clearly still deeply distressed by both, and that these traumas were first and foremost in his mind, was evident in his statement upon their release when he lashed out at his kidnappers, calling for the Afghan government to track down those members of the Haqqani network who raped his wife, and ordered “the murder of my infant daughter.”

UPON THEIR RELEASE in Pakistan and return to Canada, all of the Coleman/Boyle family were showing signs of distress and may or may not have been receiving—or accepted—the support they needed. Boyle may have rejected psychological assistance, or simply opted for prayers and medications that might ease the pain. But prayers and medications don’t quickly and completely erase traumatic memories that tend to intrude unbidden into one’s consciousness causing rage, terror, withdrawal and alienation—symptoms that trauma survivors need help in learning to manage.

Boyle perhaps too quickly stepped forward and took it upon himself to be the family spokesman talking to the press with whom he unceremoniously announced the family traumas. Meanwhile Caitlan Coleman remained veiled, in the shadows and silent—while her father, Jim Coleman, made angry statements to American media blaming Boyle. “Taking your pregnant wife to a very dangerous place, to me and the kind of person I am, is unconscionable.”

Coleman’s father was not the only one who questioned Coleman’s reasons for being in Afghanistan in the first place. Security and law enforcement also had their lingering questions about whether Boyle had tried to make contact with terrorists in the first place and why Boyle and his wife were in Afghanistan.

Boyle, who is a convert to Islam, was married for a time to Zaynab Khadr, one of the elder sisters of Omar Khadr, the Pakistani-Canadian who as a 15-year-old was arrested and charged with killing an American soldier in Afghanistan. Boyle, among others, was outraged that Khadr spent ten years in Guantanamo despite claiming his confession to the killing had been coerced.

The patriarch of the Khadr family was killed in 2003, along with al Qaeda and Taliban members, in a shootout with Pakistani security forces near the Afghanistan border. Omar Khadr, who was repatriated to Canada in 2012, subsequently won a settlement of 10.5 million Canadian dollars ($8.4 million) and a government apology from the Canadian government for breaching his constitutional rights.

Security experts wondered if Boyle’s zeal for Islam and his anger over the West’s action toward individuals like Omar Khadr were part of his reason for going to Afghanistan. Was he looking for contacts that ultimately disappointed him by taking him and his family hostage and demanding he join them?

Boyle’s associations with the family led some U.S. intelligence officials to speculate that his visit to Afghanistan may have been part of a larger effort to link up with Taliban-affiliated militants. “I can’t say that [he was ever al Qaeda],” one former intelligence official told The Independent in the U.K. “He was never a fighter on the battlefield. But my belief is that he clearly was interested in getting into it.”

These questions still remain unanswered, but certainly would cause Boyle distress.

Within a week of their release in October 2017, Boyle, who tried to present himself as the strong protector, reportedly was rushed to the hospital with an unspecified ailment. Boyle’s family made a statement at the time that both their son and his wife were “deeply traumatized and Josh is not of clear thought as he speaks at times.”

This week Caitlan Coleman defended Boyle, without offering specifics, in her statement to the Toronto Star where she blamed the trauma they had been through. “Obviously, he is responsible for his own actions,” Coleman wrote, “but it is with compassion and forgiveness that I say I hope help and healing can be found for him. As to the rest of us, myself and the children, we are healthy and holding up as well as we can.” Boyle’s defense lawyer, Eric Granger, wrote in an e-mail to the Star, “Mr. Boyle is a young man who we all know has been through a lot. He has never been in trouble with the law.”

Indeed, and now that we see evidence that the deep traumas of their five-year-ordeal are being replayed, it is time for Caitlan, Joshua, and their children to get the psychological, spiritual, medical, and community support they need. Only then can they rage and grieve and finally come to terms with the losses harsh captivity has left imprinted on their bodies, minds, and souls.

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D., is an adjunct associate professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University School of Medicine and Director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE). She has interviewed over 500 terrorists, their family members and supporters in various parts of the world including Gaza, the West Bank, Chechnya, Iraq, Jordan, Turkey, the Balkans, the former Soviet Union and many countries in Europe. She is the author of several books, including Talking to Terrorists and ISIS Defectors: Inside Stories of the Terrorist Caliphate. Follow @AnneSpeckhard

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Weapons from Ukraine’s war now coming to Africa

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Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said that weapons from the raging war between Russia and Ukraine are now slipping into the Lake Chad Basin region.

Lake Chad region, an economically and socially integrated area in West and Central Africa straddling Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria.

In his opening address at the 16th Summit of the Heads of State and Government of the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) Buhari, who is also the Chairman of the Summit, said the situation which had heightened the proliferation of small arms and light weapons called for reawakening of the border security of the countries of the region.

President Buhari said the Russia/Ukraine conflict and other violent situations in the Sahel region of West Africa had compounded the Boko Haram terrorism in the Lake Chad Basin region.

He said though a lot had been done to decimate the strength of the Boko Haram terror group and other violent extremist groups in the region, terrorists threats still persist.

“Regrettably, the situation in the Sahel and the raging war in Ukraine serve as major sources of weapons and fighters that bolster the ranks of the terrorists in Lake Chad Region. A substantial proportion of the arms and ammunitions procured to execute the war in Libya, continues to find its way to the Lake Chad Region and other parts of the Sahel. Weapons being used for the war in Ukraine and Russia are equally beginning to filter to the region.

…The question why there are weapons from Ukraine in Africa is critical. Even western countries supplying  weapons to Ukraine are seriously concerned about such cases. Reselling weapons abroad – to Europe (Sweden) and Africa is becoming a common practice in Ukraine.

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Istanbul Terrorist Attack: What Awaits Turkey and its Neighbors?

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A terrorist attack on November 13 in central Istanbul killed six people and injured more than 80. The tragedy took place on the busy pedestrian İstiklal Avenue, about 200 meters from the diplomatic quarter, where the Russian Consulate General and Trade Mission, as well as the Russian school, are located.

Turkish police detained a Syrian woman with suspected ties to left-wing Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militias operating in Syria, who confessed to planting an explosive device. Turkish Interior Minister S. Soylu stated that the attack was carried out at the behest of the headquarters of the terrorist People’s Defense Units (YPG) in the Kobanî district of Syria. According to the Minister, the hands-on perpetrator of the Beyoğlu attack confessed during interrogation that she had been sent by PKK/YPG leaders illegally to Turkey via Syrian Afrin.

In retaliation for the attack, Turkey initiated airstrikes on Kurdish left-wing radical bases in Syria. According to the Turkish Defense Ministry, Operation Claw-Sword is targeted at “neutralizing the PKK/YPG and other terrorist elements [and] eliminating terrorist attacks against our people and security forces in northern Syria.”

Operation Claw-Sword is a military campaign in Syria and Iraq unprecedented in its massive use of combat aircrafts and UAVs against the bases of various Kurdish left-wing radical groups affiliated with the PKK. Nevertheless, no decision has been made to transform this operation into a ground phase so far, but it is very likely that the Istanbul blast will have serious implications not only for the domestic political situation, but also for Turkey’s neighboring states. In particular, such sentiment was expressed by Russian Special Presidential Envoy for Syria for Syria A. Lavrentyev. “We used the Astana Format on Syria to have very detailed conversations with our Turkish counterparts and try to convince them to refrain from conducting full-scale ground operations. We still believe that there could be a serious escalation of violence not only in northeastern Syria, on the territory of Syria itself, but in the Middle East as a whole,” he said during a press conference following the 19th round of the Astana talks on Syria.

The Kurdistan Workers’ Party and its affiliates: Between terrorism and the fight against terrorism

However, the PKK leadership denies its involvement in the attack: “We have nothing to do with this incident and it is well-known by the public that we would not target civilians directly or approve of actions directed at civilians,” said a statement of the so-called Headquarters Command of the People’s Defense Center, which is the command of the military wing of the group.

The Syrian wing of the PKK, the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), whose combat wing are the Kurdish YPG forces in Syria, did not admit guilt for the attack either. “Attempts by Turkish intelligence services to blame our militias for the explosion are intended to legitimize Ankara’s preparations for a new military operation in northern Syria to expand the border security zone,” the PYD said in a statement.

From Ankara’s point of view, however, there is no difference between the PKK and the PYD, since both are part of the Kurdistan Communities Union (Koma Civaken Kurdistan, KCK), headed by Abdullah Öcalan, who is serving a life sentence in Turkey. The KCK is an umbrella organization whose leadership replaced that of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party back in the early 2000s. The latter, in turn, became a regional Turkish affiliate of the Kurdistan Communities Union. While other groups created by the PKK, particularly in Iraq, Syria and Iran, have become branches of the KCK in these countries on an equal footing with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party. The same applies to the PYD in Syria.

Turkey did not accept as an argument the denial of responsibility for the Istanbul attack by the above-mentioned organizations. Ankara continues to accuse the Syrian branches of the PKK of numerous terrorist attacks, which they have denied or shifted the blame to cover organizations such as the Afrin Liberation Forces, whose connection to the YPG is considered by many experts to be apparent.

Among the most notorious and bloodiest terrorist attacks was the April 2020 bombing of a market in the city of Afrin, which was blamed on YPG cells. It killed 53 civilians and injured at least 50. And in January 2021, a car bombing in the same Afrin region claimed the lives of six civilians and wounded about 25 others. No one has taken responsibility for the attack, but Ankara blamed the YPG for the explosion.

Neither Turkey’s NATO allies nor most EU countries, which included the PKK in their terrorist lists, had any doubts about its terrorist component. But Ankara’s partners have been less consistent with the PKK affiliates of the KCK. Washington has chosen the Syrian branch of the PKK, the PYD, and its combat wing, the YPG, as its priority ally in the fight against the IS terrorists (an organization recognized as terrorist and banned in Russia). This, however, did not happen immediately as the Pentagon and the CIA were divided on this matter. The CIA insisted on continued cooperation with Syrian opposition structures from the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (SNC) and affiliated groups of the Free Syrian Army (FSA, SNA) and moderate Islamists. At the same time, the U.S. Department of Defense urged the U.S. leadership to give up support for the Islamists and switch to assistance to the far more understandable and ideologically close, given their declared principles, Kurdish left-wing YPG groups in Syria.

The Pentagon’s position eventually prevailed in the American leadership, and the PYD and YPG became the basis of the proto-state and paramilitary structures in northeastern Syria — the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) — created under Washington’s auspices. Such a move has stalled U.S.-Turkish ties and is still probably the main knot of tension in their bilateral relations.

The YPG between Washington and Moscow

The recent terrorist attack in Istanbul will seriously complicate the U.S. ability to support the YPG if Ankara decides to conduct a new full-scale military operation in Syria, rather than limiting it to air strikes. According to Ankara, Washington is also responsible for this explosion because it prevents the suppression of YPG activities in Syria by the Turkish Armed Forces, trains and equips these formations, designated terrorist by Turkey. This, in particular, was made clear by Turkish Interior Minister Soylu, responding to the condolences expressed by the U.S. on the terrorist attack: “I think that we should assess the condolences made by the U.S. today as if the killer would have been one of the first to arrive on the scene, and the reaction to this message will be very precisely. It will be seen in the near future, God willing,” said the Minister.

Ankara now has greater leverage to press Washington to remove the security umbrella from the YPG, at least in the 32 km strip where a new operation is most likely to take place. Turkish President Erdogan also has the option of freezing the accession process of Finland and Sweden to NATO by taking advantage of the terrorist attack if his wishes for a new military operation in U.S. politics are not carried out.

On the other hand, the position of Russia has not gone unnoticed by the Turkish leadership. Moscow has repeatedly deterred Ankara from launching a new offensive against the Kurdish left-wing radical groups in Syria. “Despite our repeated warnings to Russia, which is responsible for destroying terrorists in northern Iraq [1] and Syria under our 2019 Sochi agreement, Moscow refuses to do its duty,” Turkish President Erdogan said.

One thing to keep in mind is that Russia, too, referred to Turkey’s failure to fulfill its obligations under the Idlib Memorandum by supporting the Syrian government forces during operations in Idlib. By the way, they have not been implemented so far. By preventing new Turkish operations in Syria against the Kurdish left-wing groups, Russia tried primarily to protect the interests of its ally in Damascus and to prevent new violations of Syria’s sovereignty by offering the Assad regime various forms of relations with the Syrian Kurds and their integration into the Syrian state structures. However, this process has never advanced.

After the Istanbul attack, it will probably be much more difficult for Moscow, as well as Washington, to keep Ankara from another invasion of northeastern Syria. Now Erdogan has a serious trump card that is not easy to beat, and any attempt to press Turkey on this issue can only lead to a worsening of relations. This would be extremely undesirable for Russia, since Turkey remains its leading economic partner and logistics hub after cutting ties with the West.

In addition, one should not discount the very desire to foot on both camps and the provocative actions of Kurdish formations in the SAR, which did not stop sabotage and terrorist activities in the areas of the Turkish operations “Olive Branch” and “Euphrates Shield”. At the same time, in the course of the Turkish operation “The Source of Peace” in the fall of 2019, during negotiations between the Russian side and the Syrian Kurds, the latter agreed to Russian proposals to withdraw YPG units from the border strip in northeastern Syria, where Russian-Turkish patrols were supposed to operate. This provision was enshrined in the Sochi Memorandum, to which Erdogan referred in his claims against Moscow. However, once it became clear that the Trump administration had changed its decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, the YPG decided not to burden themselves with their previous commitments and maintained their military presence along the Syrian-Turkish border. This, in fact, predetermined a new military operation between Turkey and the SNA and exposed Moscow to criticism from Ankara.

For his part, Mazloum Kobane, the military commander of the left-radical Kurdish formations in Syria, expressed disappointment at what he called “the weak response of Russia and the United States” to dozens of Turkish airstrikes. In his opinion, Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine increased Turkey’s value in the eyes of both Russia and the West. Many believe that the sluggish response of both states to Turkey’s escalating war against the Syrian Kurds is explained by their desire to pull Ankara over to one side. According to Kobane, unless Moscow and Washington show firmness, Turkey is likely to carry out repeated threats to launch an offensive in Syria, as it did in two separate incursions in 2018 and 2019.

Moscow has previously made it clear that stopping the Turkish military operation is only possible through diplomacy, since the Syrian armed forces cannot stand up to the more powerful Turkish Armed Forces if they want to participate in repelling the Turkish offensive against the YPG, especially since they are exhausted from a decade of civil war. Therefore, the most acceptable option would be to make Ankara and Damascus jointly address the issue of the Kurdish left-wing groups in Syria, helping them to find common ground on other positions as well.

Domestic political factor

The recent attack came at a very opportune time for Turkey’s leadership, when there is an uncompromising battle for votes ahead of the parliamentary elections scheduled for May. The Istanbul bombing has already triggered painful memories in Turkish society of the barrage of terrorist attacks in June-November 2015. At that time, the Republic of Turkey was forced to hold parliamentary elections twice, as R.T. Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) was unable to form a governing coalition.

It should not be forgotten that in 2015, because of the terrorist activity that rallied the nation, the president’s party rating rose 9% in five months, and the resulting need to tackle security problems dissipated the political uncertainty. Then the supporters of the Turkish leader did not just win back positions in the second vote, but secured a solid parliamentary majority.

However, both in 2015 and now the terrorist attack gave rise to a variety of conspiracy theories. However, even the opposition HDP (Peoples’ Democratic Party), which is often accused of being sympathetic to the PKK, is inclined to consider the attack a provocation by “third forces,” rather than blaming the government. The Istanbul explosion occurred against the backdrop of a gradual normalization of the authorities’ relations with political movements (such as the HDP), which are usually affiliated to some extent with Kurdish left-wing radical groups, including the PKK. The AKP could in some way count on the support of these forces in the upcoming elections. Now that the country’s leadership has engaged in an escalation scenario towards Syrian Kurdish groups, such an option is hardly possible.

Naturally, the opposition will also try to use the implications of the terrorist attack to their advantage. Thus, the head of Turkey’s main opposition party (Republican People’s Party, CHP) K. Kılıçdaroğlu lashed out at the government for failing to ensure border security. “They say that borders are an honor. And then they don’t hesitate to tell us that the terrorist got into Turkey illegally. How was she able to get past our borders?” he stated.

In turn, the leader of the far-right “Victory Party” (Zafer Partisi) U. Özdağ, who is gaining popularity on the issue of migration, also stressed that the authorities promised to secure the north of Syria in order to return refugees there, but “they cannot even secure the center of the largest city.” He recalled that the city of Afrin, from which the terrorist had arrived, was under Turkish control. “We barely made it to the site of the explosion to pay tribute to the victims. Several barricades were lined up in front of us and let five people through. It would be better to put these barricades on the borders with Syria, so that this terrorist could not get into our country so easily,” he said.

Nevertheless, it is obvious that criticism of the opposition forces may rather push the R.T. Erdogan administration to conduct a new military operation in Syria against the Kurdish left-wing radical groups than force it to abandon the idea. In fact, opposition leaders are criticizing the government for weakness and inconsistency, but not for the inherently flawed plan to create a security zone in Syria. Now the president has the opportunity to move to more active military action, which should not be limited to air strikes, to demonstrate to his opponents the willingness to put a stop to the issue of protecting the national borders from the Kurdish left-wing radical groups.

Troubled proxies

However, despite all the possible domestic and foreign policy dividends of a military campaign in Syria, today Turkey is minimally ready to launch it, and it is all about its Syrian allies. After all, it was the Syrian National Army (SNA), created by Turkey from various opposition groups, that used to be a key component of ground operations against the Kurdish left-wing radical groups. Turkish Armed Forces supported the SNA with tanks, armor, special forces, artillery and aviation.

Since the conflict between the SNA factions at the beginning of October, it has been in a state of “half-decay”. One side was represented by the Third Corps of the SNA, led by the Levant Front (Jabhat al-Shamiyah), the other by the al-Hamza Division, the Sultan Suleiman Shah Division and Ahrar al-Sham, supported by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham terrorists (an organization recognized as terrorist and banned on Russian territory), who came to Afrin from Idlib.

Although it was possible to suspend hostilities after Turkey’s interference and the entry of Turkish units in Syrian Afrin on October 17, it is premature to talk about the complete withdrawal of radical forces. All this also indicates a further strengthening of the Tahrir al-Sham and a weakening of the SNA. That leaves Turkey with two options. The first is to bet on the radicals from Tahrir al-Sham, which will lead to serious image losses, even if these formations are used under a false flag, given their terrorist nature. The second option is to conduct the operation relying on Turkey’s own armed forces, which is fraught with large losses of Turkish soldiers. This could blur the entire positive domestic political effect of such an operation.

Nevertheless, the Turkish military command still expects to bring the Syrian National Army to a state of combat readiness and use them for an offensive operation. In particular, on November 2 there was a meeting of the Turkish command with the leadership of the SNA groups in the Turkish Gaziantep. The SNA commanders were ordered to dissolve all alliances within the Army and return to the previously approved regular structure of corps, divisions and brigades; to transfer control of all checkpoints to the joint security apparatus, and border checkpoints to the finance committee (customs); and to close their own detention departments. In addition, if certain factions are involved in conflicts among themselves, they can be disbanded. However, it is not yet known whether these measures have had the desired effect.

[1] In this case, the Turkish president made a mistake. The 2019 Sochi agreement, which provided for the withdrawal of the YPG from the 32 km border area under Russian military police control, referred only to Syria, not to Iraq.

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Terrorist Upsurge in Taliban’s Afghanistan: Regimes, Attacks and the Concerns of Neighbors

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(file photo) UNAMA/Fraidoon Poya

The U.S. undersecretary of defence for policy, Dr. Colin Kahl had wisely predicted in October 2021, that a possible resurgence of international terrorism might emanate from Afghanistan. His assessment regarding Al-Qaeda and ISIS’ intent of conducting and augmenting the terrorist activities and networks inside and outside the country is gradually being palpable over time. One year has passed but the Taliban government is still lacking an adequate approach to thwart terrorism. However, under the regime, along with Al-Qaeda and ISIS-K, many more terrorist groups like the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM, known as the Turkestan Islamic Party), Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Khatiba Imam al-Bukha, Islamic Jihad Group, and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Taiba, using the country as a citadel, are now operating in Afghanistan and conducting terrorist attacks in domestic and external arena.

Terrorist Groups in Taliban’s Afghanistan: Al-Qaeda, ISIS-K, TTP, ETIM and Others

Despite renouncing overt inclination and connection with the terrorist groups, the Taliban regime is sympathetic to them. Mainstream terrorist groups have been gradually expanding their roots in the country due to the Taliban’s rickety policy. There are many terrorist groups and regimes such as Al-Qaeda and IS-K, in the country that are saliently and robustly active in their activities.

To talk about Al-Qaeda firstly, since the Taliban regime’s takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021, the core leadership of the group congratulated the regime. With the opportunity of the Taliban’s zero concern, by that time, the terrorist group has energized its affiliation with the outer world and reinvigorated its roots in the country by recruiting more members in and outside the country. With the leadership of Ayman al-Zawahiri, the successor of Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaeda had got a new impetus in Taliban’s Afghanistan to enlarge its branches. Although Al-Zawahiri has been killed by a drone strike, the activities of Al-Qaeda are not halted yet. Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, however, is mostly run with an affiliation with al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS). Respecting this, however, being the regime and the country as a haven, it still ‘remains a central strategic node’ for Al-Qaeda.

Likewise, the Islamic State Khorasan branch, widely known as ISIS-K or IS-K, is another notorious terrorist group which is a powerful branch of the worldwide Islamic State. In Afghanistan, while IS highly seems to be an enemy group of Al-Qaeda and Taliban, its objective is analogous to the goal of Al-Qaeda to establish a pan-Islamic caliphate. With other leaders such as Maulawi Rajab Salahudin, Sultan Aziz Azam, Aslam Farooqi and other erstwhile military personnel and intelligence agency members, the group is led by an Afghan national, Sanaullah Ghafari. By the way, after the takeover, in less than a year, the members of the group have doubled in the country and activities have been extremely dilated. Of them, more than half of its operatives are from foreign countries. However, per an estimation, the group has conducted more than seventy-six attacks within 2021 after the retreat of the US forces.

Moreover, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), Khatiba Imam al-Bukha, Islamic Jihad Group, Lashkar-e-Taiba and many other regional and international terrorist networks and groups are staying in the country who are gravely accused of conducting terrorist attacks. Posing a vile threat to other neighbors countries like India, Pakistan and others, these groups are misusing Afghanistan as a conducive hub and the Taliban’s sympathetic stance in this regard is highly disquiet. After all the rise of the Taliban as a state actor in the contemporary time, and its victory over mainstream politics have unveiled conducive rooms for terrorist groups. It has been observed that diverse terrorist groups all over the world gleefully celebrated the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan. Without any doubt, under the Taliban regime, the revitalization of the network of global jihad is gradually becoming stronger in the country.

New Interim Government and Haqqani Network

A new interim government had been named in Afghanistan and controversially, Sirajuddin Haqqani, the leader of the Haqqani Network had been appointed as the interior minister, in charge of security and police. This interim government is mostly led by the hardliners having no inclusion of minorities, women and opposition members. However, Sirajuddin Haqqani is one of the FBI’s ‘Most Wanted’ persons and his Haqqani Network is designated as a terrorist network due to having links to Al-Qaeda. Being established in the 1970s, The Sunni Islamist Haqqani network had fought Soviet-backed Afghanistan and later had been infamous for conducting suicide bombings and killing thousands of Afghans, Americans and Soviets.

This network’s high-profile attacks include the suicide bombing at Kabul’s Serena Hotel in 2008 and the killing of 16 Afghans in a 20-hour siege of the US Embassy in 2011. However, although the Taliban is bullish about the group and says that “the group will be more conciliatory now than in the past and will abide by certain international norms”, it is very unlikely to discern any transformation. While the Taliban is antagonistic towards ISIS-K, according to Sajjan Gohel, the Haqqani network preserves a sound connection with ISIS-K. According to Michael Kugelman,… “several members [and leaders] of the Haqqani network — which has been implicated in some of the most mass casualty horrific terrorist attacks in Afghanistan over the years.. And are going to be occupying the top spots [of interim government].”

Recent Terrorist Attacks in the Taliban-ruled Afghanistan

Without misgivings, the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan has given an impetus to the upsurge of Terrorism. According to the Statista, the index of terrorism in Afghanistan has heightened to 9.11 in 2021 which was 9.05 in 2020. Statista data also shows that in 2021-22, Afghanistan secures the top position in the list of deaths from terrorism. Accounting for 20% of all deaths, Afghanistan is in the highest position in sharing global terrorism deaths.

However, in recent times, many terrorist attacks and incidents have taken place in the country. In August 2022, a series of bombings occurred in which more than 250 people have been killed & injured. Police reported that during evening prayers, a huge explosion was conducted by bombings killing another 21 and injuring 33 people. Before the incident, Rahimullah Haqqani was assassinated in a suicide bombing led by the Da’esh terrorist network. However, recently, on September 22, 2022, in a catastrophic bomb blast, at least 07 people were killed and 41 were injured near a mosque in Kabul. This bombing was allegedly led by ISIS.

Moreover, on September 30, a serious suicidal terrorist attack was held in the coaching centre of Kabul. In the attack, more than 25 people were killed and according to reports, it was against the local Shia Hazara girls and people led by ISIS-K. Very recently, demanding protection against the militants, thousands of protestors have come out of their homes and rallied against the heinous attack of the TTP on a school van in Swat Valley of Pakistan. In the terrorist attack, the driver of the van was killed and 02 children were injured. According to some reports, they are gradually coming back to their respective areas in Pakistan from Kabul which infers that they are now bolstered to a grave extent. As a result of the activities of the notorious terrorist groups, it has become more palpable that in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan terrorism has expanded to an egregious degree.

Neighbors’ Concerns

Since the Taliban government is less likely to pursue any hard policy and follows a ‘sympathetic attitude’ towards Al-Qaeda, ISIS-K and others, the tension among the neighbors is swelling deliberately. For instance, conducting their activities from Kabul, Afghanistan, the TTP is being stronger day by day in the Swat Valley of Pakistan. The local people are highly concerned with the heinous attacks and mischief activities of the group. However, with the major theme of “security and economic development,” a three-day conference was held between July 25 to 26 in Tashkent, Uzbekistan where more than 20 states and organizations partook including China, Pakistan, Iran and other Central Asian countries. In the conference, the neighbor states showed grave concerns regarding the dilly-dallying policy of the Taliban government regarding the terrorist groups. Particularly, they focused on the abrupt and violent upsurge of Al-Qaeda with the sympathy of Taliban. The return of Al-Qaeda is gravely giving rise to a vulnerable region, in which regard, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, China and other countries are extremely concerned about the resilience in and outside the country.

Apart from all the grim developments, the major and big question is, whether the Taliban government has been competent to uphold its pledge about thwarting terrorism or the regime is pursuing a contrast path giving the groups more sympathy. Data and evidence exhibit that the regime is countenancing the terrorist groups which course is threatening and ominous not only for the region but rather for the whole world. As a result, the neighbors and other countries are highly concerned about the future trajectory of the groups. Therefore, in no time, the Taliban government should break up all the relationships with terrorist groups in order to keep its legitimacy in the international community.

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