Taliban Attempting to Outdo US in Fighting ISIS in Afghanistan

By Franz J. Marty, Special to The Epoch Times
October 5, 2018 Updated: October 8, 2018

KHOGYANI, Afghanistan—The Taliban have resumed their fight against ISIS in Afghanistan, showing that eliminating the local chapter of the terrorist group isn’t just a goal of the United States.

Meanwhile, locals are concerned about both insurgent groups.

The clashes are taking place in Wazir Tangi, an area located in the mountains that straddle the Afghan–Pakistani border in the district of Khogyani in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar.

An outpost of an armed pro-government uprising group.
An outpost of an armed pro-government uprising group on a ridge overlooking Taliban-held areas just outside of Kaga, the center of the district of Khogyani in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar, on Oct. 2, 2018. (Franz J. Marty/Special to The Epoch Times)

The Taliban, who controlled almost all of Afghanistan in the years prior to the toppling of their regime in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, have been fighting the local chapter of ISIS—which remains confined to several small pockets—since around the time of the group’s inception in 2015.

In July, the Taliban defeated an ISIS-affiliated group in the northern Afghan province of Jowzjan. Meanwhile, U.S. and Afghan government forces managed to destroy parts of ISIS’s purported caliphate in some parts of Nangarhar province, but at least so far, weren’t successful at uprooting it.

Murky Situation

The Taliban has vowed to duplicate their success in Wazir Tangi, where clashes between Taliban and ISIS erupted in August, but ebbed before starting again in late September.

A member of the Afghan security forces patrols during an ongoing an operation against Islamic State.
A member of the Afghan security forces patrols during an ongoing an operation against ISIS terrorists in the Achin district of Nangarhar province on April 11, 2017. (Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/Getty Images)

Zabihullah Mujahid, the official Taliban spokesman, claimed on Oct. 3 that the Taliban had cleared about half of Wazir Tangi from ISIS control, and that operations continue in the other half. This was however contested by Mohammad Ayub Bahor, the deputy district governor of Khogyani.

“The Taliban advanced a little, but the majority of Wazir Tangi is still held by Daesh,” Bahor told The Epoch Times on Oct. 2 in Kaga, the district center of Khogyani. Daesh is a derogatory Arabic term that refers to ISIS and is also used in Afghanistan.

A member of an armed pro-government uprising group overlooks Taliban-held areas just outside of Kaga, Afghanistan.
A member of an armed pro-government uprising group overlooks Taliban-held areas just outside of Kaga, the center of the district of Khogyani in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar, on Oct. 2, 2018. (Franz J. Marty/Special to The Epoch Times)

Malek Gul Shirin, who hails from Wazir Tangi and commands a group of local vigilantes that man some outposts at the beginning of Wazir Tangi, said the situation can’t be evaluated accurately.

“The fighting takes place far away from our outposts and we don’t have exact information,” he said.

Given that virtually all local residents from Wazir Tangi fled a long time ago, there are no independent sources that could verify what happens there. Taliban propaganda only mentions the battles in Wazir Tangi to a limited extent, which may suggest that things aren’t going as well for the Taliban as in Jowzjan in July.

Further obscuring the situation are allegations about U.S. airstrikes. The Taliban openly accuse U.S. Forces–Afghanistan of supporting ISIS, for example by targeting Taliban fighters, when they attack ISIS. This fuels conspiracy theories, according to which ISIS is a secret U.S. project, that are believed by many Afghans, including well-educated ones.

Members of an armed pro-government uprising group in an outpost just outside of Kaga.
Members of an armed pro-government uprising group in an outpost just outside of Kaga, the center of the district of Khogyani in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar, on Oct. 2, 2018. The group’s commander, Malek Gul Shirin, is on the left. (Franz J. Marty/Special to The Epoch Times)

Such theories are not only contradicted by U.S. assertions to defeat ISIS and statements from Gul Shirin and Bahor, but also by numerous U.S. airstrikes and raids targeting ISIS in Afghanistan.

In fact, reports indicated that on Sept. 30–i.e. during the recent clashes between Taliban and ISIS in Wazir Tangi–a U.S. drone strike killed 21 ISIS fighters there. This was contested by Mujahid however, who asserted that Taliban–and not ISIS fighters–were hit. Neither account could be verified.

“It is not clear, whether airstrikes [in Wazir Tangi] kill more Daeshis or more Taliban; but they do kill both,” said Gul Shirin.

In general, the men from Khogyani did not attach much importance to the differentiation between the Taliban and ISIS.

“Our sources said that the recent U.S. drone strike killed Daeshis; but even if it had been Taliban, it would make no difference–both of them are our enemies and we fight them,” deputy district governor Bahor said.

Gul Shirin also echoed this: “At the moment, our outposts at the beginning of Wazir Tangi are not under pressure. But we are worried that–in case the aerial bombardments should be ceased–it will become dangerous. We only have our Kalashnikovs, while the Taliban and Daesh have rockets and heavy weapons,” he added, implying that the local uprising is concerned about any insurgent group that might emerge victorious from the current clashes.

Asked about whether they would fear the Taliban or ISIS more, Gul Shirin simply replied: “They are both dangerous.”

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