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Al-Qaeda operating across Afghanistan: Report

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(Last Updated On: April 10, 2021)

Al Qaeda and its regional branch, Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, continue to operate across Afghanistan despite repeated claims by the Taliban that the group has no presence in the country, the Long War Journal said in a report.

According to the report, Al Qaeda’s enduring presence in Afghanistan is visible both through press reporting on Coalition operations against the terror group, and Thabat, Al Qaeda’s own media arm that has noted the group’s operations in 18 provinces.

“Afghan security forces have targeted Al Qaeda operatives in two additional provinces. In all, Al Qaeda is operating in at least 21 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces,” the report said.

Thabat, a weekly Al Qaeda newsletter that covers its operations across the globe and is analogous to the Islamic State’s Al Naba news service, has noted multiple reports of Al Qaeda’s activities in Afghanistan. Thabat is described by the United Nations Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team as “one of the group’s [Al Qaeda’s] media arms.”

While the Taliban, on its official website Voice of Jihad, reports on dozens of attacks daily against Afghan security forces and government targets, Thabat only reports on attacks in which Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, as well as allied groups such as the Islamic Jihad Union, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Katibat Imam Bukhari, Jamaat Ansarullah, and others, are directly involved.

An analysis of 16 issues of Thabat (issues 3 through 18) shows that Al Qaeda and its constellation of allies in Afghanistan have been involved in dozens of attacks from Nov. 2020 to the present day in 18 of Afghanistan’s provinces.

The provinces where Thabat reported on operations are Badakhshan, Balkh, Farah, Faryab, Ghazni, Helmand, Jawzjan, Kapisa, Kabul, Kandahar, Kunar, Kunduz, Khost, Logar, Nangarhar, Takhar, Uruzgan, and Zabul.

The Journal stated that the Afghan press reports from Sept. 2020 to the present confirms that Al Qaeda and its allies are operating in seven of the provinces noted by Thabat, the Long War Journal reported.

Those provinces are Badakhshan, Farah, Ghazni, Helmand, Kapisa, Kunar, and Nangarhar. Additionally, Afghan security forces targeted Al Qaeda in two other provinces that were not mentioned by Thabat: Nimroz and Paktika.

“There are over a dozen press reports noting Al Qaeda’s operations in the nine provinces. For instance, in late March 2021, Afghanistan’s National Directory of Security killed Abu Muhammad al Tajiki, a senior AQIS military commander in Paktika province. Also, in July 2020, Afghan officials noted that Al Qaeda was operating a training camp in southern Helmand and also operating in Nimruz,” the report read.

According to the report, the information is consistent with the previous reporting on Al Qaeda’s presence in Afghanistan.

“In July 2020, the United Nations Security Council Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team reported that Al Qaeda “is covertly active in 12 Afghan provinces: Badakhshan, Ghazni, Helmand, Khost, Kunar, Kunduz, Logar, Nangarhar, Nimruz, Nuristan, Paktiya and Zabul.” This corresponds to nine of the 18 provinces mentioned by Thabat (Badakhshan, Ghazni, Helmand, Khost, Kunar, Kunduz, Logar, Nangarhar, and Zabul).”

The Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team noted that AL Qaeda is estimated to have between 400 and 600 operatives in Afghanistan, the report said.

In May 2019, General Austin Miller, the commander of Resolute Support Mission and US Forces – Afghanistan, noted that Al Qaeda is operating “across the country” and not confined to one region.

“We have seen al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Yes, in different parts of Afghanistan,” Miller said at the time quoted by the Journal.

“In different parts of Afghanistan, we can find them, so it’s not one particular region, it’s across the country,” Miller stated.

In March 2019, the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team estimated that Al Qaeda was operating in 13 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces.

“FDD’s Long War Journal has tracked al Qaeda’s presence in Afghanistan for well over a decade, using press releases and public statements from the US military, NATO’s command in Afghanistan, and Afghan security services, as well as the jihadist groups’ own martyrdom statements,” the report said.

“The data clearly shows that al Qaeda and allied terrorist groups have been operating on Afghan soil for the past two decades with the approval of the Taliban. These terrorist organizations often operate in areas controlled by the Taliban – and the jihadists killed in coalition or Afghan raids often die alongside members of the Afghan Taliban.”

“Between 2007 and 2019, NATO, US, and Afghan forces have launched at least 373 operations against these foreign terror groups in 27 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces. Many of the raids against Al Qaeda and its allies have gone unreported,” the report concluded.

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Taliban capture key dam in Kandahar province

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(Last Updated On: May 7, 2021)

The Taliban has captured Afghanistan’s second-biggest dam after months of fierce fighting in its former bastion of Kandahar, the group and officials said, as the US forces have begun the withdrawal of its troops from the country after 20 years, AFP reported.

The Dahla Dam, which provides irrigation to farmers via a network of canals as well as drinking water for the provincial capital, was now under Taliban control, local officials told AFP news agency on Thursday.

A Taliban spokesman Qari Yousuf also confirmed this and said: “We have seized the Dahla Dam in Arghandab.”

Haji Gulbuddin, governor of an adjacent district, confirmed the dam “is now in the control of the Taliban”, AFP reported.

“Our security forces … asked for reinforcements but they failed to get it,” he said.

Kandahar water department chief Tooryalay Mahboobi told AFP the Taliban recently warned Dahla employees not to go to work.

Last month the armed fighters blew up a bridge that connected the dam to adjacent districts, AFP reported.

Dahla was built by the US nearly 70 years ago to provide water for irrigating land in about seven districts of Kandahar.

In 2019, the Asian Development Bank approved a grant of nearly $350m to be used partly to expand the reservoir-style project.

The surrounding district has seen intense fighting in the past six months, but officials announced in April that the area had been cleared.

Before retreating, the Taliban planted explosives across the area – including in residential complexes – officials said.

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Pentagon chief says removal of all contractors from Afghanistan under way

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(Last Updated On: May 7, 2021)

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Thursday the process of removing all contractors from Afghanistan working with the United States was under way as part of President Joe Biden’s withdrawal of forces from the country.

The remarks are the clearest indication yet that Biden’s April order to withdraw all U.S. forces from Afghanistan by Sept. 11 extended to U.S.-funded contractors.

Asked whether the Pentagon had issued orders to withdraw not just American troops but also contractors, Austin said: “We’re going to responsibly retrograde all of our capabilities that we are responsible for and the contractors fall in that realm as well.”

Speaking with reporters, Austin said the contractors could, however, renegotiate their contracts in the future.

As of April, there were nearly 17,000 Pentagon contractors, including about 6,150 Americans, 4,300 Afghans and 6,400 from other countries.

The departure of thousands of contractors, especially those serving the Afghan security forces, has raised concerns among some U.S. officials about the ability of the Afghan government and military to sustain critical functions.

‘NOT A FOREGONE CONCLUSION’

Austin said the drawdown was going according to plan so far.

But Afghan security forces are locked in daily combat with the Taliban, which has waged war to overthrow the foreign-backed government since it was ousted from power in Kabul in 2001.

In just two days, the Taliban captured a second district in the northern province of Baghlan on Thursday.

The Afghan government says the Taliban have killed and wounded more than 50 troops in attacks in at least 26 provinces during the last 24 hours, while its forces killed dozens of Taliban over the same period.

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, said there had been sustained levels of violent attacks against Afghan security forces but none against U.S. and coalition forces since May 1.

Milley, in the same news conference, said it was too early to speculate on how Afghanistan would turn out after the withdrawal of U.S. forces given that Afghanistan had a significantly sized military and police force and the Afghan government was still cohesive.

“It is not a foregone conclusion, in my professional military estimate, that the Taliban automatically win and Kabul falls or any of those dire predictions,” Milley said.

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Power pylons destroyed, leaving Kabul in the dark

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(Last Updated On: May 7, 2021)

Two electricity pylons in the north of the city were blown up early on Friday morning, the main power utility, Da Afghanistan Breshna Sherkat (DABS), said.

The incident happened in Mirzakhil village in Kalakan district of Kabul at around 4:45 am on Friday in which two power pylons that transmit imported 220 kilovolts of power from Uzbekistan to Kabul were destroyed and a third pylon was partly damaged, read DABS statement.

Locals say they woke up to the sound of an explosion, but no one was injured in the area.

“Bomb has been placed near another power pylon in the area, but a team from the Afghan army is in the area to defuse the bomb,” DABS said.

DABS said that its workers will be sent to the area once the area is safe.

So far no group claimed responsibility for the blasts.

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