Terror groups enjoy greater freedom in Afghanistan than at any time in recent history and there are no signs that the Taliban leadership has taken steps to limit the activities of foreign terrorists in the war-torn country, a report of the UN Secretary-General has said.
The report says the dreaded Islamic State terrorist group aims to position itself as the “chief rejectionist force” in Afghanistan, expands into neighbouring Central and South Asian countries and is viewed by the Taliban as its primary armed threat.
The ’14th report of the Secretary-General on the threat posed by ISIS to international peace and security and the range of United Nations efforts in support of Member States in countering the threat’ notes that the security landscape in Afghanistan changed dramatically on August 15, following a Taliban military campaign that took control in the country, including Kabul.
“There are no recent signs that the Taliban has taken steps to limit the activities of foreign terrorist fighters in the country. On the contrary, Member States are concerned that terrorist groups enjoy greater freedom in Afghanistan than at any time in recent history,” the report said.
It, however, said that only a small number of foreign terrorist fighters are moving to Afghanistan.
The report said ISIS affiliate in Afghanistan, Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant-Khorasan, continues to be led by Sanaullah Ghafari, an Afghan national, who was designated by the ISIS and al-Qaida Sanctions Committee of the UN Security Council in December last year.
The US on Monday announced a reward of up to USD 10 million for information on Ghafari and those responsible for last year’s militant attack on the Kabul international airport that killed at least 185 people.
The US Department of Rewards for Justice (RFJ) issued notifications to this effect on Monday.
”Rewards for Justice is offering a reward of up to USD 10 million for information on ISIS-K leader Shahab al-Muhajir, also known as Sanaullah Ghafari,” it said.
According to the UN report, ISIS-K is taking advantage of the turmoil in the country, including by recruiting fighters from the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement and the Turkistan Islamic Party, among other foreign terrorist groups.
“It aims to position itself as the chief rejectionist force in Afghanistan and to expand into neighbouring Central and South Asian countries and is viewed by the Taliban as its primary armed threat,” the report said.
The UN Member States are concerned that if Afghanistan descends into further chaos, some Afghan and foreign violent extremists may shift allegiances to ISIS, it said.
The UN Member States have assessed that the strength of ISIS-K has increased from earlier estimates of 2,200 fighters to now approaching 4,000 following the release by the Taliban of several thousand individuals from prison. One Member State assessed that up to half the individuals are foreign terrorist fighters, it added.
“While Da’esh controls limited territory in eastern Afghanistan, it is capable of conducting high-profile, complex attack such as the 27 August bombing at Kabul airport, which killed over 180 people, and several subsequent attacks, in particular against the Taliban and members of the Shia community,” the report said.
The report said that during the second half of 2021, ISIS (Da’esh) continued to suffer leadership losses, while its affiliates maintained a high level of activity and attacks in Africa and gained in strength and visibility in Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover.
The interrelated issues of foreign terrorist fighters, other ISIS fighters and their family members continued to concern Member States acutely.
The Member States in the South-East Asia region are also concerned about the “potential resurgence of a safe haven” in Afghanistan for international terrorist activity, as well as about social media messaging that “celebrates the Taliban victory”, which could be used as a recruitment tool for violent extremism locally, the report noted.
National authorities in the South-East Asia region are not reporting any immediate uptick in attempted travel to Afghanistan, but are alert to this possibility.
The report said that both Indonesia and the Philippines reported significant counter-terrorism gains, leading to an overall decline in terrorist activity and cautious optimism that the operational capability of several groups in the region may be significantly degraded.
At the same time, the threat of attacks by lone actors or inspired by radicalised individuals remains a concern, it said.