WASHINGTON: The US Department of Defence has highlighted the presence of terrorist groups in Afghanistan as the key issue that would determine the fate of the ongoing talks between the United States and the Taliban.
The latest report by the Pentagon’s ‘Lead Inspector General for Operation Freedom’s Sentinel’ reviews the quarter ending March 31 and covers the activities of terrorist groups in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
It focuses “particularly (on) Al Qaeda and ISIS-K,” noting that those two groups “remain a central focus of the Operation Freedom Sentinel (OFS) mission and has emerged as one of the key concerns in the ongoing peace negotiations.”
Operation Freedom’s Sentinel (OFS) is the official name used by the US government for the US-led global war on terrorism.
“As the peace talks continue, the questions of whether the Taliban can help influence and deny sanctuary to these groups, and the extent to which an ongoing US counter-terrorism presence may be required, have become more prominent,” says the report while highlighting Washington’s concerns in Afghanistan.
US and Afghan officials have stated that there are at least 20 terrorist organisations operating in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The report includes estimates of how many fighters these groups have in the region.
The report notes that most of these groups do not have global aspirations or reach. “For example, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, one of the larger groups, focuses on fighting the Pakistani government,” it adds.
According to these estimates: ISIS-K, Haqqani Network and Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan are the three largest groups in the region. Each has between 3,000 to 5,000 fighters.
The Islamic Emirate High Council is the fourth with 1,000 fighters. Al Qaeda, one of the strongest terrorist groups in the region before the US invasion has now been reduced to 300 fighters.
Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and Lashkar-e Tayyiba also have about 300 fighters. Tariq Gidar Group has 100-300 fighters, Jamaat ul-Ahrar 200, Islamic Turkestan Movement 100, Islamic Jihad Union 25 and Jamaat Dawa Quran 25.
Published in Dawn, May 25th, 2019