7 May 2017

* Taliban and Islamic State Clash in Eastern Afghanistan

By Thomas Joscelyn

The Islamic State’s Wilayah Khorasan (or Khorasan province) claimed gains at the Taliban’s expense earlier today. The two sides clashed in the Chaparhar district of Afghanistan’s eastern Nangarhar province, where they have fought each other repeatedly during the past two years.

A “number of soldiers of the caliphate in Wilayah Khorasan set out at dawn yesterday towards positions of the apostate Taliban in the area of Chaparhar,” the Islamic State claimed in a statement released via social media. Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s followers added that they used “light and heavy” weapons during the “violent clashes,” killing 10 Taliban members and capturing three others. After allegedly forcing the Taliban’s men to flee the area, the self-declared caliphate’s “mujahidin” recovered spoils, including a “machine guns,” “cannons” and “other weapons,” as well as ammunition.

Local Afghan authorities confirmed that the two sides fought one another once again. According to Khaama Press, the provincial government in Nangarhar issued a statement saying several civilians, including children, were killed or wounded during the crossfire. The provincial authority reported that 21 Taliban members and seven Islamic State fighters were killed, with nine more from both sides wounded. (The provincial government’s estimate of the Taliban’s casualties is higher than the Islamic State’s self-reported claim.)

Khaama Press added that the battle broke out at a time when Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s loyalists are under “heavy pressure from the security forces in other districts” in Nangarhar.

Chaparhar is one of several districts the Islamic State seized from the Taliban shortly after Abu Muhammad al Adnani, Baghdadi’s first spokesman, announced the creation of Wilayah Khorasan in Jan. 2015. Citing local Afghan officials, Reutersreported in June 2015 that the Taliban had lost at least six districts in Nangarhar to its jihadist foes. However, the Taliban eventually recaptured Chaparhar and also successfully stymied the Islamic State’s expansion in other areas of the country.

US-led forces have dislodged Baghdadi’s jihadists from several of Nangarhar’s districts since Jan. 2016. Indeed, the group controlled 10 or more districts at the beginning of 2016, according to the US military. But Wilayah Khorasan’s safe haven shrunk as it faced multiple enemies. The US and its Afghan allies are currently trying to uproot the Islamic State’s men from their remaining strongholds in Nangarhar. But that has not been easy. Three American soldiers were killed during raids in the area during the month of April.

Despite losing ground over the past year and a half, the Islamic State is still able to engage in heavy fighting and launch large-scale attacks in Afghanistan. And the Taliban is still in its crosshairs.

On Apr. 29, Wilayah Khorasan claimed that a separate battle in the northern Afghan province of Jowzjan left 30 Taliban members dead, with 40 others captured. The group said that it taken “30 rifles, 4 PKCs, 3 RPG-7 rockets,” ammunition and “several vehicles” as spoils. Wilayah Khorasan’s statement indicated that the battle with the Taliban lasted four days, which is consistent with independent reporting.

Citing local officials, Pajhwok Afghan News reported on Apr. 26 that 91 fighters had been killed “on both sides,” but the casualties were mostly Taliban members, including one of the group’s district chiefs. Pajhwok Afghan News’ sources claimed that the fighting broke out after the Islamic State kidnapped “three drug smugglers” who had traveled from western and southern Afghanistan to do deals with the Taliban. The Islamic State’s representatives allegedly refused to release the men.

Wilayah Khorasan’s rivalry with the Taliban extends into Pakistan. On Apr. 28, the Islamic State’s Amaq News Agency claimed the “assassination of a Taliban leader with one of his companions in Peshawar.” The slaying took place one day earlier, on Apr. 27. Amaq didn’t name the Taliban figure who was gunned down, but other reports quickly identified him as Maulvi Mohammad Daud.

Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman, onfirmed Daud’s death, but did not identify his killers. According to NBC News, other Taliban officials identified Daud “as a member of the organization’s leaders’ council in Peshawar.”

More than three years after Baghdadi and his supporters declared their caliphate in Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State continues to target its jihadist opposition around the globe. In addition to the recent attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Islamic State is battling Hay’at Tahrir al Sham (HTS) in an area south of Damascus. HTS includes the group formerly known as Al Nusrah, al Qaeda’s largest branch in history.

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD's Long War Journal.

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