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Doubts Surround U.S. Envoy’s Claim Of Taliban Role In IS Defeat

Hundreds of IS fighters surrendered to the Afghan authorities in Nangarhar since mid-November.
Hundreds of IS fighters surrendered to the Afghan authorities in Nangarhar since mid-November.

KABUL, -- Afghan officials and analysts have contradicted claims by Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. peace envoy for Afghanistan, that the Taliban military operations contributed to routing the Islamic State (IS) militants from a restive eastern Afghan province.

“The Taliban have not helped in defeating them [IS] or exerting pressure on them,” Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Nusrat Rahimi told Radio Free Afghanistan on December 4 in response to a tweet by Khalilzad that credited the Taliban for defeating IS in the eastern province of Nangarhar alongside the coalition and Afghan troops. “Instead, the Taliban have paved the way for many terrorist groups to operate in Afghanistan.”

He added that the Taliban movement has supported IS directly. “Many Taliban commanders joined Daesh after developing differences,” Rahimi said while referring to IS with its Arabic acronym commonly used to referred to the ultra-radical group. “This in itself prepared grounds for [IS operations].”

Rahimi’s comments contradicted Khalilzad, who credited the Taliban alongside U.S., NATO, and Afghans forces for routing IS from the eastern mountainous province of Nangarhar, where the hard-line group emerged in 2015 and held large swathes of rural territories until recently.

“Effective operations by US/Coalition & Afghan security forces, as well as the Taliban, led to ISIS-K losing territory & fighters.” Khalilzad tweeted on December 3. ISIS-K is another acronym for the group alluding to Khorasan Province, an ancient geographic region encompassing parts of today’s Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Central Asia. “Hundreds surrendered. ISIS-K hasn’t been eliminated but this is real progress,” Khalilzad added.

On December 2, Afghan military officials in Nangarhar said that 113 IS members had surrendered to Afghan forces in the district of Achin, which was seen as IS headquarters. On November 19, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani declared IS had been crushed in Nangarhar days after hundreds of its militants surrendered to Afghan forces.

“A year ago, no one could have thought we would be announcing to have finished off Daesh here in Nangarhar,” he told tribal leaders and volunteers in Nangarhar’s capital, Jalalabad. “What you have achieved though smart tactics could not be achieved through big bombs, airstrikes, and commando raids."

Hai Gul Sulaimankhel, a former police general turned security analyst, acknowledges that the Taliban fought against IS in Nangarhar but had no role in its defeat there.

“Daesh was defeated by Afghan security together with tribal volunteers,” he told Radio Free Afghanistan.

IS’s emergence in Afghanistan in early 2015 was marked by horrendous atrocities against civilians.

But in June 2015, the late Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansur warned then IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi against interfering in Afghanistan. "[We] will be forced to react to defend our achievements," Mansur warned Baghdadi in a strongly worded open letter.

In subsequent years, the Taliban fought numerous battles against IS. It even allied with Iran to finish off IS cells from western and southern Afghan provinces bordering the country. In a report in November 2015, the Taliban detailed their fight against Uzbekistani fighters loyal to IS in the southern province of Zabul. In August 2018, more than 250 IS militants surrendered to Afghan forces to avoid capture by the Taliban.

Meanwhile, Khalilzad reached the Afghan capital, Kabul, on December 4. In an effort to jumpstart talks with the Taliban, he will hold talks with Afghan officials.

Abubakar Siddique wrote this report based on Feroza Azizi’s reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan.