Hooded terrorists pose with handguns and rocket-propelled grenade launchers. They wear camouflage print and the black flag of jihad flies in the background.
The latest pictures of terrorists from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) are familiar except for one twist. They were taken not in the deserts of Syria or Iraq, but in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan, where Isil’s latest “province” spans the border with Pakistan.
Isil has declared the birth of “Wilayat Khorasan” – or Khorasan province – in the area of Afghanistan that was once al-Qaeda’s heartland.
Existing radical groups, including the Haqqani network and factions of the Taliban, have declared allegiance to Isil. One training camp is named after “Sheikh Jalaluddin” – or Jalaluddin Haqqani, the founder of the extremist network that carries his surname, who died last year.
The photographs, distributed on Twitter, show about 40 terrorists “graduating” after receiving weapons and fitness training. Isil now claims to have three such training camps in Afghanistan, one of which is named after the movement’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
But Isil’s presence in Afghanistan is bitterly opposed by the Taliban, which views its fighters as usurpers and traitors. While Isil has achieved a strong presence in the eastern province of Nangarhar, its attempts to infiltrate elsewhere in the country have been beaten back by the Taliban.
This conflict within the ranks of the extremists could eventually rebound to the advantage of Afghanistan’s national government. For the moment, however, the Afghan National Security Forces have been unable to contain Isil or prevent its entry into the country.
The US and its allies have ceased all combat operations in Afghanistan, handing over responsibility for security to the national security forces. This created the opening which Isil has been quick to exploit. Extremists of all kind have gained ground since the departure of US and Western combat troops.