Top Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid issued a statement on Friday claiming assessments that the Islamic State is a growing threat in Afghanistan are “incorrect” – a response to concerns following Taliban “foreign minister” Amir Khan Muttaqi confirming that 1,800 Islamic State terrorists had escaped prisons last year.
Taliban officials, who are nearing the one-year anniversary of their takeover of Afghanistan, have repeatedly insisted that the Islamic State – Khorasan Province (ISIS-K), its Afghan wing, does not present a threat to the country. While the Taliban and ISIS are both Sunni jihadist terrorist organizations, the former claims to oppose the latter’s activities and engaged in conflict with ISIS terrorists seeking to take over lucrative opium cultivation sites prior to the fall of the U.S.-backed Afghan government.
In the process of capturing the country and sending former President Ashraf Ghani fleeing to the United Arab Emirates last year, the Taliban reportedly freed thousands of Islamic State terrorists from Afghan prisons, calling into question the alleged rivalry between the two.
“I don’t know the exact number — clearly it’s in the thousands when you consider both prisons, because both of them were taken over by the Taliban and emptied,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters in August.
According to Muttaqi, currently the Taliban’s top diplomat, about 1,800 ISIS terrorists were freed last year, Asian News International (ANI) reported on Friday, citing Afghanistan’s Khaama Press. Muttaqi notably did not confirm that Taliban terrorists had enabled the jailbreak and appeared to blame the legitimate Afghan government for flying ISIS terrorists into the capital, Kabul, shortly before it collapsed.
Muttaqi reportedly made the remarks at a conference on the future of Afghanistan held in neighboring Tashkent, Uzbekistan.
“The ISIS prisoners had been causing unrest in the country during the previous 11 months,” ANI quoted the jihadist official as saying, noting that Muttaqi insisted that the Islamic State was no longer a threat to the country and that the superior military might of the Taliban had succeeded in containing the ideologically aligned terrorists.
In its original report on Wednesday, Khaama Press specified that Muttaqi was discussing a jailbreak from Bagram and Pul-e-Charkhi prisons, aligning with John Kirby’s comments that “thousands” had escaped “both” prisons. Muttaqi’s estimate of the number of newly freed jihadists appeared significantly lower than the Pentagon’s last year.
“Foreign Minister Muttaqi conceded the release of ISIS prisoners during his speech at the Tashkent conference on Tuesday, July 26. However, he claimed that during the previous 11 months of Taliban administration, the group had grown strong enough to subdue ISIS fighters,” Khaama Press relayed. “He asserted that when the ISIS members were besieged by the Taliban in Jawzjan province in northern Afghanistan, the previous administration flew them to Kabul. He further claimed that for the previous 11 months, the same ISIS had been causing unrest in Afghanistan.”
Khaama Press noted that the Taliban had engaged in a mass pardoning of prisoners in the entire country when taking over, meaning it now had no recourse to recapture the freed ISIS terrorists if it so desired.
Responding to international concerns about the resurgence of the Islamic State – which once dominated vast swathes of Iraq and Syria – in Afghanistan, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid insisted in a statement on Twitter on Friday that any claim that ISIS endangered the security of the country was “far from reality.”
تخمین زیاد شدن پدیده داعش در افغانستان نادرست و بدور از واقعیت است.
ایجاد تشویش ها در رابطه کمپاین به فتنه گرهای داعشی می باشد که باید صورت نگیرد.
امارت اسلامی و مردم افغانستان اجازه نمیدهند که داعش در کشور لانه ایجاد کند.
داعش در افغانستان کوبیده شده و در حال محو شدن می باشد.
— Zabihullah (..ذبـــــیح الله م ) (@Zabehulah_M33) July 29, 2022
“The assessment of the rise of the ISIS phenomenon in Afghanistan is incorrect and far from reality,” Mujahid wrote. “Causing concerns about the campaign against [ISIS] seditionists is something that should not be done. The Islamic Emirate [the Taliban] and the people of Afghanistan will not allow ISIS to establish a nest in the country. ISIS has been defeated in Afghanistan and is disappearing.”
Mujahid’s claim that ISIS is “disappearing” follows a definitive declaration by another spokesman, Bilal Karimi, in November that ISIS “does not exist” in the country.
“Bilal Karimi has said that ISIS-K is just a phenomenon and does not exist at all in Afghanistan leave alone recruiting people in the country,” Khaama Press reported at the time. “Spokesperson of the Taliban said that their intelligence has strictly been following the group and they are being suppressed wherever they pose a potential threat.”
Mujahid had been somewhat less conclusive at the time, attributing a bombing in Kabul at the time to the Islamic State but crediting “the Islamic Emirate’s vigilante forces” with thwarting the attack and reducing damage.
That same month, the United Nations warned in a report on the status of the country that the Islamic State was “present in nearly all provinces” and far more of a threat than it had been in years prior.
“Once limited to a few provinces and Kabul, ISILKP [ISIS Khorasan] now seems to be present in nearly all provinces and increasingly active,” United Nations Special Representative for Afghanistan Deborah Lyons told a U.N. meeting in November. “The number of attacks has increased significantly, from last year to this year. In 2020 – 60, so far this year – 334 attacks attributed to ISILKP or, in fact, claimed by ISILKP.”
Lyons condemned the Taliban for “extra-judicial detentions and killings of suspected ISILKP members” that appeared repressive and not significantly effective in containing the group.