A UN Security Council report revealed that the leaders of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant-Khorasan (ISIL-K) are aiming to team up with Taliban and other militant outfits who are on the same page in context of refuting the peace deal between the US and the Afghan Taliban.
The report also delineated apprehensions over the vulnerable security situation in the war-ravaged country with a risk of further deterioration.
The 28th report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team concerning ISIL (Daesh), Al-Qaeda and associated individuals and entities said that in its efforts to resurge, Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant-Khorasan (ISIL-K) has prioritised the recruitment and training of new supporters.
“Its leaders also hope to attract intransigent Taliban and other militants who reject the Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan between the United States of America and the Taliban and to recruit fighters from the Syrian Arab Republic, Iraq and other conflict zones,” it said.
The report said that estimates of the strength of ISIL-K range widely, with one Member State reporting between 500 and 1,500 fighters and another stating that it may rise to as many as 10,000 over the medium term.
One member state of the UN stressed that ISIL-K was largely "underground and clandestine", the report said, adding that the terror group’s leader Shahab al-Muhajir, alias Sanaullah (not listed), cooperates with Sheikh Tamim (not listed), head of the al-Sadiq office.
Tamim and his office are tasked by ISIL core to oversee the network connecting ISIL-K with ISIL presences in the wider region.
“Despite territorial, leadership, manpower and financial losses during 2020 in Kunar and Nangarhar Provinces, Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant-Khorasan has moved into other provinces, including Nuristan, Badghis, Sari Pul, Baghlan, Badakhshan, Kunduz and Kabul, where fighters have formed sleeper cells," the report said.
"The group has strengthened its positions in and around Kabul, where it conducts most of its attacks, targeting minorities, activists, government employees and personnel of the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces,” it said.
As the US withdraws its forces from Afghanistan ahead of the August 31 deadline set by President Joe Biden, the report noted with concern that the security situation in Afghanistan remains fragile, with uncertainty surrounding the peace process and a risk of further deterioration.
As reported by the Monitoring Team in its twelfth report to the Security Council Committee in June, Al-Qaeda is present in at least 15 Afghan provinces, primarily in the eastern, southern and south-eastern regions.
“Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) operates under Taliban protection from Kandahar, Helmand and Nimruz Provinces,” the report said, adding that since the death of its leader Asim Umar in 2019, AQIS has been led by Osama Mahmood, who is not listed.
“The group consists mainly of Afghan and Pakistani nationals, but also individuals from Bangladesh, India and Myanmar,” it said.
The report noted that the status of Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri is unknown and he is assessed by the Member States to be “alive but ailing” in Afghanistan.
“If alive, several Member States assess that he is ailing, leading to an acute leadership challenge for Al-Qaeda,” it said adding that an Al-Qaeda attempt to showcase al-Zawahiri in a video threatening Myanmar in March 2021 “but using dated footage only added to rumours of his decline or demise.”
Al-Qaeda has suffered even more severe leadership attrition, calling into question its ability to bring about a succession.
“Member States report that his probable successor is Mohammed Salahaldin Abd El Halim Zidane, (alias Sayf-Al Adl) who is currently located in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” the report said.
“Sayf- Al Adl, his most likely successor, is reported to remain in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Member States differ as to what Al Adl’s options would be if he was called upon to succeed al-Zawahiri, but most assess that he would have to move and that basing himself in Afghanistan might not be an option,” the report said.
“The leadership succession calculations of Al-Qaeda are complicated by the peace process in Afghanistan where, under the Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan between the United States of America and the Taliban of February 2020, the Taliban is committed to suppressing any international terrorist threat," it said.
"It is unclear whether Sayf-Al Adl would be able to travel to Afghanistan to take up the position of leader of Al-Qaeda. Some Member States point to his history of living and operating in Africa and assess that he might choose to base himself there” it added.
The report said in Central, South and South-East Asia, affiliates of ISIL and Al-Qaeda continue to operate notwithstanding key leadership losses in some cases and sustained pressure from security forces.
It further said the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) continues to pose a threat to the region with the unification of splinter groups and increasing cross-border attacks.
The TTP has increased its financial resources from extortion, smuggling and taxes.
According to one Member State, Mufti Khalid, one of the leaders of TTP, was killed by Jamaat ul-Ahrar in an internal dispute over resource allocation in Kunar Province, Afghanistan in May.
(With PTI Inputs)