Central Asia watches as Taliban, IS clash over money, territory in Afghanistan

By Sulaiman

Afghan local police keep watch during a military operation in Nad-e-Ali District of Helmand Province, where the Taliban is very active, April 8, 2017. [Noor Mohammad/AFP]

Afghan local police keep watch during a military operation in Nad-e-Ali District of Helmand Province, where the Taliban is very active, April 8, 2017. [Noor Mohammad/AFP]

KABUL -- The deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan has been a red flag for Central Asia governments as concerns grow about extremists returning home from wars in the Middle East and militants amassing on the Afghan border.

But recent clashes between rival militant groups in Afghanistan could potentially reduce the threat to Central Asia, as they weaken themselves in internecine conflict.

Taliban and "Islamic State" (IS) militants are locked in combat throughout Afghanistan, vying for the ability to extort and plunder the civilian population, officials say.

In one April battle in Jawzjan Province, 87 members of the two groups died, said Mohammad Reza Ghafouri, spokesman for the Jawzjan governor.

"The clash [...] resulted in the death of 72 Taliban militants, including two of their key commanders, and left 57 other injured, while 15 IS members were also killed and 12 others were wounded," he told Salaam Times.

"Moreover, IS captured 10 Taliban members," he said, adding, "There is a high possibility that more intense conflicts will take place between these two terrorist groups."

Plundering the population

The two groups have been supporting their terrorist activities by seizing cash and other assets from civilians, Ghafouri said.

"About 100 IS members and 200 to 300 Taliban are present in Qush Tepa and Darzab districts," he said, adding that residents in those areas are suffering from robbery and worse at insurgents' hands.

Two months ago, IS took three women hostage and then executed them, Ghafouri said, adding that the militants also set fire to 60 houses.

IS reportedly had mistakenly thought the women were related to local police officers and killed them in retaliation, according to local sources.

Residents also told Salaam Times of their continued suffering from both IS and Taliban militants.

"Previously the Taliban seized food from residents of our area, three times a day," said Sharifullah, a former resident of Qush Tepa who fled the area and now resides in Kabul. "Now both the Taliban and IS do this."

"Each month, every family has to pay at least 500 AFN ($7.35) to both groups," he said, adding that wealthier families are forced to pay more.

Feuding over money

The two groups started fighting over the local spoils and after IS killed three Taliban commanders, Jawzjan police chief Rahmatullah Turkistani told Salaam Times.

"After forcing residents of Qush Tepa and Darzab to give them money, a number of Taliban were returning from those areas [on April 19] when IS ambushed them," he said. "The fighting started then."

"Another reason for the clash ... was the assassination of three key Taliban commanders by IS [April 15]," he added. "Those three were also drug traffickers."

"Afghanistan National Security and Defence Forces in Jawzjan Province are prepared to crackdown on both IS and Taliban terror groups," he said, adding that Operation Khalid will start in the province "very soon".

Currently troops are carrying out the operation in 13 provinces, targeting Taliban and IS elements.

Even more violence possible

Without a decisive end to militant depredations in Jawzjan, violence in its contested districts could worsen, warned Abdul Satar Darzabi, a member of the Afghan parliament representing Darzab.

"The Taliban used to forcibly collect tithe, alms and religious taxes from residents in areas under their control," he told Salaam Times. "But now, IS too has started collecting tithe and alms, which is not acceptable for the Taliban."

Because of this competition to extort money from citizens, he said, "further bloody clashes between the groups are very possible."

"In a month or two, the harvest will start," said Darzabi. "That's why each group is trying to defeat the other, so that it can collect donations and tax from crops unchallenged."

"Civilians have suffered the most from the actions conducted by IS and Taliban militants," he said.

"Our people live in constant fear of IS and the Taliban," Darzab District resident Sayyed Jamil told Salaam Times. "I hope they keep fighting among themselves, so that they all kill each other."

"I urge the government to launch an operation in Darzab as soon as possible," he said.

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