KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Simply after Maghreb prayers, drained Afghan police lugging weapons and backpacks clamber up a rocky outpost to function lookouts as night time falls. A lot of the preventing round right here is finished at night time.
The town is the Taliban’s former stronghold and capital the place al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden met in 1999 underneath the previous Taliban regime (1996-2001) with Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, whose group would later change into al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI).
At the very least 95% of US troops have already left Afghanistan and the remainder will probably be out by Aug. 31.
That is in sharp distinction with the extra gradual pullout from Iraq the place, as one Afghan put it to this journalist, america didn’t abruptly yank “the affected person (i.e., the nation) out of the intensive care unit” earlier than they had been prepared to face on their very own ft.
Districts have fallen to the Taliban at an alarming rate in latest months as america makes haste to get its forces out, at occasions even leaving within the middle of the night with out informing their Afghan counterparts. The battle is much from over, and the nation’s largest cities stay underneath authorities management. However the state of affairs doesn’t look good.
Some elements of the town of Kandahar have been taken in latest days by the Taliban, together with a house of a detailed relative of former President Hamid Karzai.
And as extra international fighters are reported among the many ranks of the Taliban, the dangers of region-wide results develop.
Based on a recent report by the UN, al-Qaeda is in at the very least 15 Afghan provinces and operates “underneath Taliban safety from Kandahar, Helmand and Nimruz provinces.”
A dizzying array of international armed teams have sooner or later in latest months allegedly collaborated with the Taliban or fought underneath their flag in Afghanistan.
Afghan scholar Omar Sharifi, who was himself imprisoned for weeks by the Taliban within the late Nineteen Nineties throughout their former “emirate” for not having a correct beard when he was doing his medical research in Kabul, instructed Al-Monitor in an interview in Kabul in July that a few of these teams made up primarily of international fighters have initially fought underneath the flag of the Taliban solely to later increase their very own flag.
Afghanistan underneath the Taliban regime within the late Nineteen Nineties served as a coaching floor for a few of those that would later be part of the Islamic State (IS) and for others who would practice them in propaganda and using explosives.
Zarqawi was killed when america bombed his secure home in a village close to the Iraqi metropolis of Baqouba in 2006. AQI, nonetheless, served as a precursor to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), formally introduced in 2013.
The transnational group later dropped the “in Iraq and Syria” a part of its identify because it expanded internationally.
IS at one level held a couple of third of Syria and 40% of Iraqi territory underneath its management. It was declared defeated in Iraq in December 2017 and misplaced its final territory in Syria within the nation’s eastern Deir ez-Zor province in early 2019.
It reeled in recruits from the world over, and several other years after its introduced defeat in Iraq, it nonetheless continues to assert assaults, together with one on Baghdad’s Sadr City on July 19 that killed over 30 individuals.
Consultants say that it has withdrawn to rural areas, deserts and mountains to try to regroup. In Iraq, nonetheless, there’s probably a lot much less room for maneuver for jihadists than there could be in a Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.
Although the Taliban and the native department of IS, Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP), have fought over territory within the nation, the Taliban and al-Qaeda retain good relations.
The Taliban have additionally notably elevated their “public messaging” over the previous yr. Some items are apparently now using masks and professional-looking uniforms.
Plenty of Afghans instructed this journalist over the course of a number of weeks spent within the nation in July that individuals from provinces the place the Taliban had taken over had seen males with masks that “don’t look or sound Afghan.”
Whether or not they is perhaps Arabs or Central Asians or Pakistanis — who make up a major variety of Taliban ranks, in accordance with a number of safety officers Al-Monitor spoke to within the Kandahar, Nangarhar and Kabul provinces — or others is unclear.
Some former Iraqi al-Qaeda members nonetheless in jihadist actions and circles — similar to the previous Mosul policeman Abu Maria al-Qahtani, detained within the notorious Bucca jail in Iraq for years and at present believed to be within the Syrian province of Idlib — have in latest weeks expressed assist and/or praised the Taliban on Twitter.
Al-Qaeda and its associates and offshoots have all the time regarded to cross borders, and a Taliban-ruled “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” welcome to internet hosting the group is probably going to attract adherents from Iraq and Syria, because it did a long time in the past.
Two days after this journalist visited the frontline on the perimeters of the town of Kandahar at sunset, close to which many internally displaced individuals fleeing from areas lately taken by the Taliban had gathered, all cellphone and web service fell useless within the metropolis at 6 p.m.
Helicopters had been heard overheard two hours later, however it was unclear what was occurring. Chatting with these even a number of blocks away had change into not possible with out bodily going there. On some sides of the town, Taliban flags have been seen from the perimeters of the town for weeks.
Hours later, after midnight, plane might once more be heard flying forwards and backwards.
The lack to speak appeared eerily paying homage to — or to herald but extra of the identical to return as — what has been seen lately in Raqqa, Mosul and elsewhere throughout the Center East.
And although many worldwide and a few Afghan journalists have been welcomed into the Taliban’s “staged performances,” as one member of the Afghan peace negotiating group known as it to this journalist earlier in July, web service broadly shut down or restricted in areas taken over by the group means scant info is offered for now on who and what goes into and comes out of them.