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UN Awaits Confirmation of Killing of IS-Khorasan Chief in Afghanistan

ISLAMABAD — A new U.N. report has cast doubts on the alleged death of the head of the Islamic State terror group’s affiliate in Afghanistan, noting that the ruling Taliban’s relationship with al-Qaida “remains close and symbiotic.”

The report, released this week by the U.N. Security Council sanctions monitoring team, is based on member-state intelligence. It characterized Islamic State-Khorasan Province, also known as IS-K or ISIL-K, as “the most serious terrorist threat” facing Afghanistan and the broader region.

“Sanaullah Ghafari (alias Shahab al-Muhajir) is viewed as the most ambitious leader of ISIL-K. One Member State reported that Ghafari was killed in Afghanistan in June. This remains to be confirmed,” said the U.N. report, dated Tuesday, without elaborating.

It identified Maulawi Rajab as the leader of IS-K’s external operations and estimated that the terror group had up to 6,000 operatives, including family members, in Afghanistan.

“ISIL-K is becoming more sophisticated in its attacks against both the Taliban and international targets. The group was focused on carrying out a strategy of high-profile attacks to undermine the Taliban’s ability to provide security,” the U.N. report said.

The terror campaign exhibited “strong operational capability involving reconnoiter, coordination, communication, planning and execution,” the report said. It also noted that successful attacks on leading Taliban figures in northern Afghanistan had boosted IS-K’s morale and spurred recruitment.

Last month, Taliban security sources reported that Ghafari, the self-proclaimed emir of IS-K, was killed during counterterrorism operations in the eastern Afghan province of Kunar, which borders Pakistan. Pakistani intelligence officials at the time also confirmed to VOA the death of Ghafari in what they said were “mysterious circumstances.”

The United States has offered a reward of $10 million for information leading to the identification or location of Ghafari. A spokesperson for U.S. Central Command, which oversees U.S. military operations in the Middle East and South Asia, told VOA it was unable to confirm the death of the IS-K leader.

“CENTCOM is aware of reports alleging that an ISIS-K leader was killed in Afghanistan earlier this week,” Major John Moore said in an email. “We have nothing additional to provide at this time.”

The U.N. report noted “the relationship between the Taliban and al-Qaida remains close and symbiotic.”

It added that al-Qaida mainly operates covertly in Afghanistan to help promote the narrative that the Taliban are living up to their pledges they would not allow the use of Afghan soil for terrorist purposes.

“Under the patronage of high-ranking officials of the de facto Taliban authorities, al-Qaida members infiltrate law enforcement agencies and public administration bodies, ensuring the security of al-Qaida cells dispersed throughout the country,” the report stated.

According to the U.N. findings, al-Qaida is believed to have 30 to 60 senior operatives in Afghanistan and an additional 400 fighters, reaching 2,000 when including family members and supporters.

Taliban chief spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid rejected U.N. allegations that his group maintains ties with al-Qaida.

“Al-Qaida organization does not exist in Afghanistan now and reports claiming this are false. The Islamic Emirate does not allow anyone to use Afghanistan’s soil to threaten any other country’s security,” Mujahid tweeted Friday.

The U.N. report found that the August 2021 Taliban takeover in Afghanistan has “emboldened” Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP, an outlawed group waging terrorist attacks in Pakistan out of Afghan sanctuaries.

Listed as a global terrorist organization by the U.S., TTP has been “gaining momentum in its operations against Pakistan and aspires to regain control of territory within the country. The group is known to be an offshoot and a close ally of the Afghan Taliban.

“In June, certain TTP elements were relocated away from the border area, as part of the Taliban’s efforts to rein in the group under pressure from the government of Pakistan,” the U.N. report said. It warned that TTP could become a regional threat if it continues to have a safe operating base in Afghanistan.

Taliban leaders reject TTP’s presence in the country, however.

The U.N. document concludes with member states expressing concern “over the availability of large quantities of weaponry and other military equipment” left behind by U.S. and NATO forces. They noted the potential spread of these weapons from stockpiles in Afghanistan into neighboring countries.

The U.S.-led foreign troops chaotically withdrew after almost two decades of involvement in the war with the then-insurgent Taliban.

Source : VOA News