More than 120 fighters from the anti-government Gulbuddin faction of Hezb-i-Islami have surrendered to local authorities in Baghlan after a weekend of fighting with the Taliban that left 60 insurgents and 20 civilians dead.
“Since Sunday 120 fighters including 70 armed men from Hizb-e-Islami have joined [the] government,” a police spokesman in Baghlan told Xinhua. Mamor Malang, a local commander of the Hezb-i-Islami Gulbuddin, or HIG, was among those who surrendered to the government. More HIG fighters are expected to join the government in the coming days.
The fighting began on Saturday as a dispute between the local HIG units and Taliban forces in several villages in the Baghlan-e-Markazi district came to a head. The two forces, which are normally allied against Afghan and Coalition forces, battled over control of the region and the ability to collect taxes there. Twenty-five fighters were reported killed in the first day of the fighting, which ultimately ended on Sunday.
It is not clear if this split is localized to the district or portends a wider problem in the North; Taliban and HIG leaders have not commented on the fighting.
HIG has allied with the Taliban in the northern Afghan provinces of Baghlan and Kunduz. The allied terror groups maintain safe havens in Baghlan and in neighboring Kunduz province. Of the seven districts in Kunduz province, only two are considered under government control; the rest of the districts – Chahara Dara, Dashti Archi, Ali Abab, Khan Abad, and Iman Sahib – are considered contested or under Taliban control, according to a map produced by Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry in the spring of 2009. Two districts in neighboring Baghlan province – Baghlan-i-Jadid and Burka – are under the control of the Taliban [see LWJ report, “Afghan forces and Taliban clash in Kunduz,” and Threat Matrix report, “Afghanistan’s wild-wild North”].
HIG commanders claim to have thousands of fighters and supporters under arms in northern Afghanistan, and say the group is flush with foreign support and fighters.
“We have around 3,000 to 4,000 Hezb-i-Islami men in the north,” a HIG commander named Kalakub told a PBS Frontline reporter who spent a week with fighters in Baghlan. “People come to us from all over Afghanistan. They come from Chechnya, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan. We get special mujahids from abroad, but we’re not allowed to talk about them.” Quraishi believes that these special mujahids are mainly Arabs from Yemen and Saudi Arabia who have been trained by Al Qaeda.
The northern HIG is led by Commander Mirwais, “a former millionaire businessman who turned to jihad after the US invasion of Afghanistan.”
“Jihad has become a duty for all the Afghan nation because the foreign and non-believer countries have attacked us,” Mirwais told PBS Frontline. “They’re getting rid of our religious and cultural values in Afghanistan. They’ve increased obscenity and want to force Western democracy on our country.”
HIG is a breakaway faction of the Hezb-i-Islami, which has joined the Afghan government. HIG is a radical Islamist group that is loosely aligned with al Qaeda and the Taliban. It is led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who is closely tied to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency.
Hekmatyar was a key player in the Soviet-Afghan war and led one of the biggest insurgent factions against Soviet and Afghan communist forces. His brutal battlefield tactics and wanton destruction of Kabul following the collapse of the Afghan Communist regime in the early 1990s led to the demise of Hekmatyar’s popularity. The Taliban overran his last stronghold south of Kabul in 1995 and forced him into exile in Iran from 1996-2002.
In May 2006, Hekmatyar swore alliance to Osama bin Laden. “We thank all Arab mujahideen, particularly Sheikh Osama Bin Laden, Dr. Ayman al Zawahiri, and other leaders who helped us in our jihad against the Russians,” he said in a recording broadcast by Al Jazeera.
“They fought our enemies and made dear sacrifices,” Hekmatyar continued. “Neither we nor the future generations will forget this great favor. We beseech Almighty God to grant us success and help us fulfill our duty toward them and enable us to return their favor and reciprocate their support and sacrifices. We hope to take part with them in a battle which they will lead and raise its banner. We stand beside and support them.”
Hekmatyar has since reached out to the Afghan government to conduct negotiations to end the fighting. His son is reported to have attended negotiations in the Maldives earlier this year. Also, last month Hekmatyar released terms for an end to the fighting. The 15-point plan calls for Coalition forces to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of 2010.
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