The Taliban have occupied a combat outpost abandoned by US troops in the eastern province of Kunar, and claim they will set up a headquarters there.
In a video taken by Al Jazeera, a heavily armed group of Taliban fighters is seen marching up a road in the Pech River Valley. The fighters do not appear concerned about being targeted by Afghan or US ground or air forces.
The Taliban group is then filmed inside what appears to be a combat outpost; HESCO barriers, sandbags, and other artifacts from ISAF forces are seen in the background.
A commander identified as Mullah Muhibullah claimed the Taliban will establish “a permanent base” there, swore allegiance to Mullah Omar, and said his forces will continue to attack US troops until they “reach the gates of America.”
“We will have a permanent base here and we will maintain control of it,” Muhibullah told Al Jazeera. “As long as our commander, Mullah Omar, is alive and our guide, we will fight for him. The infidels failed to hold this outpost. Our jihad against American troops will continue, and one day we will reach the gates of America.”
Another commander identified as Intiqam said the Taliban have imposed sharia, or Islamic law, in the area, and he twice denied any links to al Qaeda.
“The whole area is secure and sharia [Islamic] law is being applied here and all the people are very happy,” Intiqam said. “We have no links with al Qaeda; we are Taliban fighters under the command of Mullah Omar. We are not associated with al Qaeda.”
But al Qaeda is known to have a strong presence in Kunar province and its forces often fight alongside local and regional Taliban groups against US and Afghan forces. Al Qaeda also maintains bases and training camps in Kunar. And in December, the special operations forces captured Abu Ikhlas al Masri, al Qaeda’s commander in Kunar.
The Taliban made similar propaganda videos in the past after US forces withdrew from combat outposts in Kamdish (or Waygal) in Nuristan province in 2009, and the Korengal Valley in Kunar in 2010.
In one video, also filmed by Al Jazeera, the Taliban were seen occupying one of the abandoned combat outposts in Kamdish in Nuristan. The Taliban displayed weapons, mines, and ammunition left behind by departing US and Afghan forces. In another video, released by the Taliban, Dost Mohammed, the shadow governor for Nuristan, was seen riding on an exercise bike left behind.
Within the past few years, US troops have abandoned several combat outposts in Kunar and Nuristan after major attacks on the remote bases. US Army commanders said that the outposts were closed or turned over to Afghan forces as part of a new counterinsurgency strategy to secure population centers. Some analysts claimed that the insurgencies in these areas were local and driven by the presence of US forces. Their prediction that the insurgency would die out after US forces left the region has since been discredited.