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Security

As peace accord splinters Taliban, concerns grow over ISIS-Haqqani Network ties

By Najibullah

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Members of ISIS's Khorasan branch (ISIS-K) gather at an undisclosed location in Afghanistan last November. Worries are growing of an ISIS-Haqqani Network alliance. [File]

KABUL -- Some factions of the Taliban and the Haqqani Network, incensed by the peace deal with the United States, have joined forces with the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) to carry out destructive attacks in recent months, Afghan security officials say.

"Our intelligence suggests that relationships between the Taliban and foreign terrorist groups have become stronger than in the past," Lt. Gen. Ahmad Zia Saraj said at a news conference on May 18 in Kabul.

"Those whom we have recently arrested and the documents we have collected show that organisers for the recent events had ties to the Haqqani Network as well as Daesh," Saraj said, using the Arabic name for ISIS.

"For instance, in the operation that was conducted jointly by the NDS [National Directorate of Security] and forces from the Interior Ministry against a joint ISIS-Haqqani cell in Kabul, a person who fought hard against our forces and was killed was a member of the Haqqani Network and was staying with Daesh fighters," he said.

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Taliban fighters stand at attention in an undisclosed location in this photo released May 15. Some Taliban factions against the peace deal with the United States could join ISIS and other terrorist groups, say Afghan officials. [File]

Afghan security forces attacked a joint ISIS-Haqqani Network hideout on the night of May 2 in Shakardara District, killing five ISIS and Haqqani Network members and arresting eight others.

The latest arrests by the security forces indicate co-operation of some circles within the Taliban with ISIS, said Masood Andarabi, the acting interior minister, at the same press conference.

Afghan security forces have discovered a number of joint ISIS-Haqqani Network cells through several operations and have killed a number of their members.

Based on information from the NDS, these people were involved in the deadly assault on the commemoration ceremony for the late Abdul Ali Mazari, an ethnic Hazara politician, in March as well as a mortar attack on President Ashraf Ghani's inauguration ceremony in Kabul the same month.

ISIS has suffered major setbacks on the battlefields in Afghanistan in recent years and a number of its leaders have been killed, say Afghan authorities.

Because of major defeats on the battlefields, ISIS and the Haqqani Network now have had to join forces and attack civilian targets, said Andarabi, referring to recent attacks on a maternity ward in Kabul and on a funeral in Nangarhar.

Frictions within Taliban

A number of Taliban militants are against the signing of the peace agreement between the United States and the militant group, say a number of analysts and Afghan lawmakers.

The Taliban are divided into different groups, some of which are receiving orders from neighbouring countries to sabotage the peace agreement, said Gul Zaman Nayeb, a member of the Wolesi Jirga representing Ghor Province.

"The Taliban have never functioned under a unified command. For instance, despite the Taliban leadership calling for a ceasefire, the Taliban attacked security posts in Ghor and other areas," Nayeb said, referring to a ceasefire during Eid ul Fitr.

"In my opinion, there might be some Taliban who want peace in the country," he added. "But a number of others who are funded and equipped by foreigners and neighbouring countries will continue the war."

"The Taliban members who are funded by neighbouring countries and want the peace process to fail, they are changing themselves into ISIS and al-Qaeda," Nayeb said.

More-extreme factions within the Taliban are not happy with the peace agreement between the Taliban and the United States, said Ahmad Behruz, a Kabul-based analyst.

"The Taliban have been divided into different groups," he said, noting that extremists and some groups that are funded by Iran and Russia are trying to sabotage the peace process.

"A large part of the Taliban is opposed to ISIS, but given its ultra-extremist nature, the Haqqani Network has established ties with ISIS. Unlike other circles of the Taliban, it is not optimistic for peace," Behruz said.

With the peace process becoming more serious, some circles within the Taliban may seek to join other terrorist groups, said Gen. (ret.) Muhammad Taher Yarghal, a former military officer based in Kabul.

"A number of extremist circles and groups that have contacts with foreigners will naturally oppose it," he said. "Some smaller groups might collaborate with other terrorist groups."

"There is no doubt that individuals or groups that have lived with arms for 20 years and are accustomed to war will join any group to continue such life. They will just change their name," said Sayed Ahmad Silab, a member of the Wolesi Jirga representing Kandahar Province.

However, "the latest activities are not to the extent [that they can] threaten the system and the government, and these groups [ISIS and the Haqqani Network] cannot threaten the peace process either," he added.

"Hopes for peace are growing with each passing day and there are positive steps towards peace," Silab said.

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