WASHINGTON: The US State Department has said it’s aware of reports that the Taliban and fighters of the militant Islamic State (IS) group are forging an alliance in Afghanistan.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday that Taliban and IS had forged a “patchwork” ceasefire understanding across eastern Afghanistan and were now jointly fighting US-backed efforts to dislodge them.

Also on Monday, an Afghan general, Mohammad Zaman Waziri, indicated that the two militant groups might have formed an informal alliance. “They fought deadly battles with the Taliban before. But over the past two months, there has been no fighting among them,” he told reporters in Kabul.

Asked if she could confirm the reported alliance between the two extremist outfits, director of the State Department’s Press Office, Elizabeth Trudeau, said: “We’re aware of the reports. We’re obviously monitoring for the presence of Daesh-affiliated individuals and groups in Afghanistan.” She used the Arabic acronym for IS.

She said the United States remained actively engaged with the government of Afghanistan, as well as other partners in the region, to deny terrorist organisations such as IS safe haven and material support.

“In terms of the confirmation, if they are working together, I just don’t have any confirmation I can provide at this time,” she added.

The WSJ reported that until several months ago, IS fought bloody battles with Taliban units in eastern Afghanistan. The Taliban too were trying to stamp out their rivals, who came to Afghanistan in 2014.

The Afghan and US-led coalition forces took advantage of the conflict, pushing back the militants on multiple fronts and reclaiming territory they held. But recently, the two insurgencies have worked out local deals to stop fighting each other and turn their sights on the government.

That allowed them to focus on fighting US-backed Afghan forces in Nangarhar province and shift north into Kunar province, establishing a new foothold in a long-time Taliban and former Al Qaeda stronghold.

Published in Dawn, August 10th, 2016

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