UNSC says al-Qaeda has training camps in Afghanistan’s provinces

Photo: Reuters

The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) in a new report has expressed concern over the continued expansion of terrorist groups’ activities, particularly al-Qaeda, in Afghanistan, saying al-Qaeda maintains an “active presence” in the country and has established training camps, religious schools, and weapon storage facilities in various provinces.

The UN Security Council’s report reveals that despite efforts by the Taliban to restrict al-Qaeda’s activities in Afghanistan, the group has preserved its ties with the Taliban while attempting to keep these connections hidden.

The report, dated Jan. 29, reveals that al-Qaeda has managed to maintain a “holding” position under Taliban rule, leading to tensions between the Taliban and some al-Qaeda leaders due to the Taliban’s efforts to restrict the group’s activities in Afghanistan.

The council previously expressed concerns about terrorist groups’ presence and their activities in Afghanistan.

The new report shows that al-Qaeda lacks the operational capacity to organize large-scale attacks with its remaining members.

“Al-Qaida was reported to have established up to eight new training camps in Afghanistan, including four in Ghazni, Laghman, Parwan and Uruzgan Provinces, with a new base to stockpile weaponry in the Panjshir Valley,” the UNSC report said.

The report added that some camps might be temporary.

The report also said that “Hakim al-Masri (not listed), based in Kunar Province, is responsible for the training camps and conducting suicide bomber training for TTP”.

According to the report, five al-Qaeda madrasas operate in Laghman, Kunar, Nangarhar, Nuristan and Parwan provinces.

The report added: “The group maintains safe houses to facilitate the movement between Afghanistan and the Islamic Republic of Iran in the provinces of Herat, Farah and Helmand, with additional safe house locations in Kabul.”

TTP backed by Taliban

Another matter the group raises is the ties between Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and al-Qaeda.

The report says that TTP has been receiving “significant backing” from al-Qaeda and other militant factions, the report says.

The UNSC report added that “regionally focused groups, such as Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), enabled by a range of listed actors, pose a regional threat in South and Central Asia, with several attacks being supported from within Afghanistan”.

The report added that activity by Daesh’s Khorasan branch in Afghanistan has reduced, but its ability to project threat in the region and beyond causes Member States concern.

The report noted that despite the Taliban’s official stance discouraging TTP’s activities outside Afghanistan, many TTP fighters have engaged in cross-border attacks in Pakistan without facing any substantial repercussions. Citing reports, it said that some Taliban members, driven by a perceived religious duty, have joined TTP’s ranks, bolstering their operations.

“Some Taliban members also joined TTP, perceiving a religious obligation to provide support,” the report said. “Interlocutors reported that TTP members and their families receive regular aid packages from the Taliban. A new TTP base was established in mid-2023 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan, where 66 TTP individuals trained as suicide bombers. A notable development is the increase of Afghan nationals in the TTP ranks,” the report added.

The report pointed out that the East Turkestan Islamic Movement/Turkestan Islamic Party (ETIM/TIP) has shifted its base from Badakhshan Province to Baghlan Province, expanding its operational reach across various regions.

The report said that the group is intensively engaged in training the youth for its reserve forces and is notably enhancing the recruitment and training of women.

The report added that concerns were mounting among regional countries due to ETIM/TIP’s active collaboration in recruitment, training, and strategic planning with other extremist groups, particularly the banned TTP, posing a significant security threat to the area.

The United Nations Security Council also mentions several other terrorist groups active in Afghanistan, such as the “Jamiat Ansar al-Islam,” which receives support from al-Qaeda and is working to solidify its position, while others are actively regrouping.

In response to the UNSC report, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid issued a statement rejecting its findings and denying any association with al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.