WASHINGTON: Al-Qaida in Indian Sub-continent (AQIS) recruit personnel from remote areas of India and Bangladesh, and nearly 180 operatives of the group work as advisers and trainers of the Taliban in southern and eastern Afghanistan, a UN monitoring committee report has said.
According to the 21st report of the ISIL (Daesh) and al-Qaida/Taliban Monitoring Team, which was established by the UN Security Council, al-Qaida continues to cooperate with the Taliban in return for sanctuary and operating space.
Al-Qaida leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri is still assumed to be in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region, said the report dated January 26, which was made public last week.
The report said that fighters of AQIS operate as advisers and trainers of the Taliban, with 150 to 180 operatives present in southern and eastern Afghanistan. They recruit personnel from remote areas of India and Bangladesh, it said.
And despite concerns expressed by some countries, the report said it was not clear that significant numbers of al-Qaida elements ultimately travelled to Syria to join the fight.
According to the report, one country expressed concern about the vulnerability of the Maldives to returnees, since the number of Maldivian fighters per capita is one of the highest in the world.
Notably the travel of new foreign terrorist fighters from Central and South Asia to the conflict zones has virtually ceased, initially because of measures taken by countries, but later by the lack of appetite or capacity on the part of the ISIL core to receive new foreign terrorist fighters, the report said.
The report said that fighters loyal to the Taliban combined with members of various al-Qaida affiliated groups could number as many as 60,000 fighters, an increase from 2016.
Currently, there are more than 20 groups active in the war-torn country. The Taliban remains the largest, with about 40,000 to 45,000 fighters.
The others are ISIL in Afghanistan and a range of al-Qaida affiliated entities, including TTP, Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT), Lashkar i Jhangvi (LJ), Lashkar-e-Islam (LeI), Jundullah, the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan or IMU.
The number of foreign fighters currently operating in Afghanistan is estimated to be between 10,000 and 15,000.
However, despite having been further degraded by Afghan and international military operations, ISIL continues to resist and mount attacks, especially in Kabul. In some areas, it is in violent competition with the Taliban; in others there appears to be some mutual accommodation, it said.
Noting that the number and geographic dispersal of ISIL-affiliated elements in Afghanistan has increased, the report said some countries have expressed concern that the presence of ethnic Uzbek and Tajik fighters in northern Afghanistan could potentially lead over time to an ISIL threat to the Central Asian States.
Overall, in the country, ISIL commands between 1,000 and 4,000 fighters, which include former members of the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and IMU, fighters from outside the immediate region, as well as Afghan Taliban defectors.
A significant number of the fighters formerly belonged to TTP. ISIL in Nangarhar continues to lose personnel owing to sustained military pressure but is able to replenish its ranks fairly quickly.
The UN monitoring committee said ISIL in Afghanistan obtains funds by extorting the population and agricultural production in Nangarhar. The group has made some money from timber and kidnapping for ransom.
ISIL in Afghanistan has received some financial support from the ISIL core, but has been encouraged to become more self-sufficient and recognizes that funding from the ISIL core may not continue, the report said.
It is therefore, under pressure to find new ways of raising money, especially if it is to maintain its competitive advantage of paying fighters higher wages than other groups in the region, it added.