Al Qaeda-backed jihadist groups Katibat Imam al Bukhari (KIB), the Islamic Jihad Union (IJU) and the Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP), consisting mainly of Uzbeks from the Fergana Valley of Central Asia and Uyghurs of Chinese Xinjiang, jointly conduct “Al-Fath Jihadi Operations” alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan amid the US-Taliban negotiation. KIB’s online media channel “Katibat Imam al-Bukhari under the Islamic Emirateof Afghanistan” that implies a Taliban’s subsidiary began to regularly publish news about the “victorious offensives of the warriors of Islam.” As well as IJU’s main two social media channels Badr at-Tawhid and al-Sodiqlar TV (al-Sodiqlar in Uzbek, which means ‘The Truthful’) often release videos featuring both the Taliban and IJU on the joint battleground.
For example, on April 14, 2019, KIB’s Telegram channel reported that “al Bukhari’s Mujahideen of the Islamic Emirate attacked enemy positions and killed 36 militaries of the Kabul administration, among which 4 were high-ranking commanders.”As evidence of its successful attack, KIB published video and photo materials. Another report, dated May 3, 2019, states that “Mujahideen of our Jamaat blew up the Ranger vehicle in Zabul province as a result 7 government soldiers were killed.”
Telegram’s online channel also published an audio message by the emir of the KIB’s Afghan division Jumabai Hafizahulloh, who calls on the Mujahideen to “commit Istighfar (the act of seeking forgiveness from Allah) to defeat foreign invaders led by the United States of Satan and establish Sharia law in Afghanistan.”In his speech, he frequently refers to religious works of the famous Sunni Muslim scholar Ibn Taymiyyah whose worldviews influenced the development of Salafism and Takfirism and became the basis of the ideology of al Qaeda and ISIS. At the end of the speech, he called on all Muslims to join the jihad against the “American occupiers.”
According to audio and video materials distributed by al-Sodiqlar TV on Telegram, Uzbek militants of IJU have frequently taken part in “Al-Fath Jihadi Operations” alongside the Taliban, fighting against Afghan security forces. For example, on April 14, 2019, IJU released a video showing how Uzbek militants under the leadership of the Taliban attacking an Afghan security forces’ convoy in Baghlan province’s capital Puli Khumri and seizing heavy trucks on the Baghlan-Balkh highway, part of the Ring Road which links Kabul to the north.
TIP, KIB and IJU’s videos in Telegram once again reaffirmed al Qaeda-backed Central Asian jihadists’ role within the Taliban insurgency, as the jihadists fight together to resurrect the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.
Features of the Taliban military operation
As is known, the Taliban annually conducts military operations under various formidable names that have an ideological and religious implication. In 2018, its military action was called ‘Al Khandaq Jihadi Operations’ (from the name of the famous Battle of Khandaq led by the Prophet Mohammed in 627), which also involved Sunni violent extremist groups: Uyghurs’ TIP and Uzbeks’ KIB. On April 12, 2019, the Taliban announced the launch of a new “Al-Fath Jihadi Operations” (which means Victory), which was published on the website ‘Voice of Jihad’ of ‘the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’ (Taliban so refers to itself).
A distinctive feature of “Al-Fath Jihadi Operations” from previous military actions is that the Taliban this year applies new tactics of attacks aimed against the government and municipal officials, the military and police forces of Afghanistan, and does not prioritize attacks on US and NATO forces. Perhaps that is why the Taliban-backed Uzbek and Uyghur jihadist groups often report on successful military operations, as local officials and government offices in remote provinces become an easy target for them.
Another distinguishing feature of “Al-Fath Jihadi Operations” that it is conducted against the backdrop of US-Taliban peace talks. Trump administration’s decision to pull American forces out of Afghanistan and begin direct peace talks between the US and the Taliban without inviting official Kabul inspired the Taliban to tighten the “al-Fath Jihadi Operations”, and was ablow to the morale of Afghan generals. The Taliban are already stronger today than they have been since their ouster in 2001, controlling or holding sway over 60 percent of Afghanistan’s districts. Therefore, they in advance methodically and cynically rejectedLoya Jirga (Afghan grand assembly) demands for a cease-fire and shunned direct talks with the Afghan government, describing it with insulting terms like “a US-imposed puppet regime,” “domestic stooges,” “the hollow Kabul administration” and “cabinet offoreign invaders “.
The main topics of Doha’s peace talks between US peace envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad and co-founder of the Taliban, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, were the full withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan and ensuring that Afghanistan is not used as a base for foreign terrorist organizations, above all for al Qaeda and ISIS, to attack other countries.
After the completion of the sixth round of negotiations, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, in a May 9 statement, assessed the outcome of the meeting as “positive” and the parties made “progress” on some points. But the activities of al Qaeda-linked Central Asian Salafi-Jihadi groups KIB, IJU and TIP in Afghanistan and their active participation in “al-Fath Operations” testified, there is not any “progress” to cut the Taliban’s cooperation with al Qaida.
To achieve international recognition the Taliban in July 2016 issued a statement for the Central Asian countries, in which it assured its neighbors that “the Islamic Emirate does not seek to interfere in the internal affairs of others nor will it allow anyone to use the land under the control of Islamic Emirate against anyone else.” During the Moscow Conference in February 2019, the Taliban reiterated “we do not allow anyone to use the soil of Afghanistan against other countries including neighboring countries.”
But all these false claims are a political ploy aimed at hiding the Taliban’s ties with al Qaeda and its Central Asian affiliates. The KIB, IJU and TIP’s media arm has shown the Taliban keeps using the Uzbek and Uyghur jihadists against West Coalition and Afghan forces, and collaborating with al Qaeda inside Afghanistan, despite assurances to the contrary.
Taliban and al Qaida are the “godfathers” of Uzbek and Uyghur jihadist groups
As is known, the first contact between Uyghur and Uzbek Islamists with the Taliban and al Qaeda occurred in the early 1990s, when members of the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, pursued by the Chinese and Uzbek authorities, fled to Afghanistan. Since then, the Taliban and al Qaeda became the “godfathers” of the Central Asian Islamist groups and widely opened the doors of global jihad for them.
The Taliban have been continuously working alongside Uzbek and Uyghur jihadist groups that have sworn allegiance both to al Qaeda and the Taliban, and today this bayat (an oath of allegiance) is effectively operating. In turn, the leaders of al Qaeda bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri both swore allegiance to the Taliban, with the result that IMU and TIP (former ETIM) were under double tutelage and control. Although the Taliban staunchly focused on Afghanistan and has not demonstrated al-Qaeda’s global jihadist ambitions outside the country, nevertheless, it continues to host Uzbek and Uyghur militant groups with far-reaching goals.
Under the influence of “godfathers,” ideological views of Uzbek and Uyghur militants expanded significantly with global aspirations. Today, they are not limited to the local agendas to overthrow the political regimes in Central Asia and China and set themselves global tasks to create a world caliphate.
Recently the UN Security Council in its twenty-second comprehensive report confirmed: “The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan still commands about 500 fighters in Afghanistan, concentrated in Faryab, Sari Pul, Jowzjan, Kunduz, Baghlan, Takhar and Badakhshan provinces. Around another 500 Central Asian fighters are distributed between Khatibat Imam Al-Bukhari, Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad, Islamic Jihad Union… The Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement commands 400 fighters in Badakhshan” (page 15-16, section “Central and South Asia”).
This Russian and Turkic-speaking terrorist groups are trusted by al Qaeda and Taliban leaders and have become a link in their strategic ties. In different years, TIP, IMU and IJU were added to the United Nations Security Council Sanctions List as being associated with al Qaeda and the Taliban. In addition, the US State Department designated all of these Central Asian jihadist groups, including Katibat al-Imam Bukhari, as “global terrorist organizations” because of their involvement in terrorist attacks alongside the Taliban and al Qaeda.
The Taliban nervously reacts when Central Asian groups break their bayat al Qaeda and considers betrayal an unforgivable crime. In December 2015, the Taliban captured and executed about 60 Uzbek jihadists led by IMU leader Usmon Ghazi in the Zabul province who broke al-Qaeda oath and pledged to Islamic State.
Sometimes the Taliban, as befits a good “godfather,” forgive Central Asian militants who violated their oath to al Qaeda. After the Taliban’s elimination of the self-proclaimed Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISIS branch in Afghanistan) in the northern Afghan province of Jawzjan,20 Central Asian fighters (citizens of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan)from Qari Hikmatullah’s ISIS network, who surrendered to the Taliban, were evacuated, along with their families, to Kohistanat district of Sar-e Pul province. Today they serve the Taliban, who has become their new master.
Taliban’s religious roots in support foreign terrorist groups
As the US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation ZalmayKhalilzad stated in March 2019, the US and the Taliban “agreed in draft”that covers two key issues: a “Coalition’s withdrawal timeline” and “effective counterterrorism measures.”According to this “draft”, the Taliban would provide “counter-terrorism assurances” that Afghanistan would not be used as a base for terrorist groups to attack foreign countries.
Despite the Taliban’s generous promises, after it comes to power in the future (judging by the tone of the negotiations, today’s events are developing precisely in this vein), there are no guarantees that the Taliban will renounce al Qaeda and stop supporting Central Asian Salafi-Jihadi groups. The problem is not the reluctance of the Taliban, but in its radical Islamist ideology and Sharia law, according to which the framework of relations between Ansar [natives] and Muhajireen [foreign fighters] are clearly outlined.
As is known from the history of Islam, mutual relations between Ansar and Muhajireen relies on Islamic values when the local inhabitants [Ansar] of Medina warmly welcomed, provided shelter and supported the Prophet Muhammad and his followers [Muhajireen], who had left their homes behind for widespread Islam during the fight against unbelievers in 622.
The Surahs of the Qur’an, Al-Anfal [8:72] and Al-Hashr [59:9], detail the responsibilities of the Ansar and Muhajireen relationship. For example, Al-Anfal obliges Ansar to help Muhajireen: “Indeed, those who have believed and emigrated and fought with their wealth and lives in the cause of Allah and those who gave shelter and aided – they are allies of one another. But those who believed and did not emigrate – for you there is no guardianship of them until they emigrate. And if they seek help of you for the religion, then you must help, except against a people between yourselves and whom is a treaty.”
As the ups and downs of the Taliban rule showed, the Taliban is strict followers of the Ansar doctrine. During the rule of the Taliban, its territory, so-called “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” became the main shelter for Muhajireen of al Qaeda and other foreign terrorist groups. Central Asian Islamists massively migrated there. During the reign of the Taliban, IMU in 1999-2000 twice attacked southern Kyrgyzstan. These fighting clashes went down in history under the name of the Batken War, during which more than 50 soldiers of the Kyrgyz army were killed.
The ties between the Taliban and al Qaeda proved to be so strong that after 9/11 the Taliban refused to hand over the main terrorist Bin Ladin to the US. There is much evidence, including joining Central Asian jihadists to “Al-Fath Jihadi Operations”, that the Taliban and al Qaeda ties remain strong. Therefore, it can be expected that in the event of the US withdrawal and the coming to power of the Taliban, Afghanistan will again become home to international terrorist groups.