The Islamic State’s so-called “Khorasan province” threatened the Taliban in a video released late last month. The video, which is more than 15 minutes long, features a lengthy speech by an unnamed jihadist (see image above) in front of armed fighters and local villagers.
The speaker, citing the Prophet Mohammed, warns that there cannot be two caliphs. If one of the caliphs fulfills the appropriate criteria for being the ummah’s supposed leader — that is, the head of the worldwide community of Muslims — then the other must be vanquished, the speaker says.
Although he doesn’t name Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar, the Islamic State’s man undoubtedly intended to evoke a comparison between Omar and Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed “caliph.” His speech, therefore, could be seen as a call to eliminate Omar.
Al Qaeda has highlighted its oath of allegiance to Omar, first sworn by Osama bin Laden prior to the 9/11 attacks, as part of its response to the Islamic State’s challenge. Although al Qaeda’s leaders typically don’t describe Omar as the “caliph,” they do refer to him as the “Emir of the Believers,” a title usually reserved for the man holding that position of authority.
In the video, the Islamic State’s “Khorasan province” also accuses the Taliban of attacking its fighters at the behest of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency. The ISI has long backed the Taliban, and it is widely suspected that Omar is being sheltered by part of the ISI’s establishment, or at least lives in Pakistan with the intelligence service’s knowledge.
In text scrolled across the bottom of the screen, the group alleges that the Taliban attacked its fighters in the Nangarhar province in the middle of May. The speaker says that his men will avenge their fallen comrades.
Multiple published accounts since the beginning of the year have reported on the clashes between the Taliban and the Islamic State’s representatives in Nangarhar and elsewhere in Afghanistan. One account, published yesterday, claims that the Islamic State’s men captured and then decapitated 10 Taliban fighters after they fled a battle with local Afghan security forces. Another version of the story says the Islamic State’s jihadists ambushed the Taliban fighters as they were making their way to a battle with the Afghan National Army (ANA).
Other accounts point to skirmishes between the two sides in the western province of Farah, after the Islamic State established training camps there earlier this year. [For a summary of press reporting on the Islamic State’s presence in Afghanistan and Pakistan from earlier this year, see LWJ report, Mapping the emergence of the Islamic State in Afghanistan.]
Despite the Islamic State’s attempt to win over jihadists in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the organization’s presence is likely still much smaller the network controlled by the Taliban, al Qaeda, and their allies. Still, the Islamic State has been itching for a fight with its jihadist rivals in the region.
In January, Islamic State spokesman Abu Muhammad al Adnani announced his organization’s expansion into the Khorasan, which covers Afghanistan, Pakistan and parts of the area surrounding these two nations. Adnani warned that other “factions will assemble against” the “caliphate’s” men, and they shouldn’t hesitate to fight their opposition. Although Adnani didn’t specifically name the Afghan or Pakistani Taliban, he clearly had the groups in mind.
The Islamic State’s growth in the region has been fueled by disaffected Taliban commanders. A splinter group of mid-level Pakistani Taliban leaders has sworn allegiance to Baghdadi, as have some Afghan Taliban veterans who were forced out of their roles in Mullah Omar’s organization.
In February, the US killed Mullah Abdul Rauf Khadim, the Khorasan province’s deputy emir, in an airstrike. Khadim, an ex-Guantanamo detainee, had served as a senior Taliban official until he was removed from his position.
Infighting and leadership disputes fractured the Pakistani Taliban coalition last year. But in recent months the alliance was reestablished, with a senior al Qaeda leader, Matiur Rehman, playing a leading role.
In late May, the new Pakistani Taliban coalition issued a nearly 60-page statement rejecting the Islamic State’s “self-professed caliphate.” The group praised the leadership of Mullah Omar, deceased al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, and Ayman al Zawahiri.
The statement shows that al Qaeda and the Taliban continue to exercise a great deal of influence over the Pakistani Taliban.