WASHINGTON: The Afghan Taliban are ready to cooperate with the US in combating the militant group Islamic State (IS) as they see jihadists ‘a threat to their own powerbase,’ Washington Post reported.

The Afghan government has been battling IS since August 2021 when it seized power after a 20-year-long war with the US and its allies, the report said while quoting US defence officials.

A senior defence official told the Post that “the duelling groups of religious fanatics are openly warring,” with the IS, attacking Afghan Taliban’s targets with the latter retaliating by targeting the former’s hideouts across Afghanistan.

“I would never want to say that we had mortgaged our counterterrorism to a group like the Taliban, but it’s a fact that, operationally, they put pressure on ISIS-K,” the official said. “In a strange world, we have mutually beneficial objectives there.”

Leaked intelligence pose militant group as a potent threat

Some part of the Post’s report was based on a leaked Pentagon assessment, claiming that the IS was once again using Afghanistan as a staging ground for plots against America, Europe and Asia.

The report portrayed the resurrected threat as a growing security concern.

When asked to comment, a US defence official acknowledged that “the [Afghan] Taliban has served as a check on ISIS” since 2021, when the group took over Kabul.

The Pentagon assessment cited specific plans to target churches, embassies, business centres and the World Cup soccer tournament. The report said that The White House declined to verify the assessment’s authenticity, although it was labelled top-secret and bore the logo of the Defense Department’s organisations.

The classified documents were posted online as part of a wider leak by Massachusetts Air National Guard member Jack Teixeria, who federal authorities said shared them with friends on a private Discord server.

Current and former US officials told the Post that the leaked reports support earlier warnings that terrorist cells could return to life in Afghanistan.

The Biden administration, however, defended its counter-terrorism policies in a statement to the newspaper.

The United States “maintains the ability to remove terrorists from the battlefield without permanent troop presence on the ground,” National Security Council Spokesperson Adrienne Watson told the Post.

Nathan Sales, the State Department’s coordinator for counterterrorism told the Post that IS “has the ambition to attack American interests in the region and ultimately the US homeland itself.”

He urged Washington to make an urgent plan to attack the group’s leadership and infrastructure.

The Afghan Taliban has rejected the US intelligence assessment as incorrect.

A spokesperson for the Taliban’s Political Office, Suhail Shaheen, said IS “has been suppressed” and the report “does not reflect ground realities in Afghanistan.”

“Such reports reflect personal desires” of their authors, he said, adding: “The fact is that the [IS] has no physical presence in Afghanistan as it had during the invasion.”

Published in Dawn, April 25th, 2023

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