Jihadists tout Taliban ‘special forces’ training camp in Afghanistan

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Photo from a Taliban ‘special forces’ training camp

Jihadists have have been circulating photographs online purporting to show a Taliban “special forces” training camp somewhere in Afghanistan.

The Long War Journal cannot verify the authenticity of the photographs, however they appear to be legitimate. The photos were not released by Al Emarah, the Taliban’s official media wing, nor on Voice of Jihad, but Taliban-linked accounts and profiles elsewhere online have published them.

The accounts are claiming that Taliban “special forces” are training at a camp. It is not clear if the group is actually referred to as “special forces” by the Taliban, or if it calls it something else. The Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, which has sworn allegiance to the Afghan Taliban’s emir, does refer to its elite forces as the “Mujahideen Special Group,” which was showcased in a training camp video released in April. The Pakistani Taliban branch has also referred to the Mujahideen Special Group as its “Special Task Force.”

The pictures show dozens of Taliban recruits partaking in physical exercises and weapons training. The recruits are seen training with handguns, heavy machine guns, and what looks like an anti-aircraft gun. Other photos show the recruits making use of technicals, or armed pickup trucks.

No location was given for this camp, but it appears to be in a mountainous area. The Taliban’s white flag can be seen flying in almost every picture. The photos are not dated, but they appear to be relatively recent and are being promoted by jihadists and jihadist supporters as if they are new. The images may be part of a yet-to-be released Taliban propaganda video.

One jihadist account claimed the camp is used to train for “significant attacks” and to “restore large areas.” The claim comes just days after the Taliban overran the Chardara and Dasht-i-Archi districts in the northern Afghan province of Kunduz. However, Afghan officials are claiming to have recaptured the Chardara district.

Jihadist camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan

Unlike the Islamic State, which routinely releases propaganda promoting its training centers, the Afghan Taliban only occasionally publicizes camps. But the Afghan Taliban and allied jihadist groups are thought to run dozens of training centers within Afghanistan, and scores more inside Pakistan.

In December 2014, the Afghan Taliban released a video promoting a camp in the northern province of Faryab. The footage showed scenes that are similar to the recent photos published by jihadists.  Taliban fighters were shown undergoing weapons training, including firing rifles from a moving vehicle, a tactic commonly used by the Taliban in assassinations of government officials.

Taliban-allied groups such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), al Qaeda, Harakat-ul-Mujahideen, and Lashkar-e-Taiba are also known to run camps inside Afghanistan despite a presence of Coalition forces. In the past, the disbanded International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) identified the presence of “Suicide camps” in Sar-i-Pul and Samangan province. In March 2011, an ISAF special operations team captured an IMU commander who ran camps in Samangan.

Al Qaeda is known to have hosted training facilities in the northern district of Baghran in Helmand province. Hundreds of Taliban and al Qaeda fighters rotated through the Baghran camps, which was run by the Shadow Army, US officials told The Long War Journal in 2009. It is unclear if the Taliban and al Qaeda still train in the district, however Baghran is still said to be controlled by the Taliban. The Shadow Army, or the Lashkar al Zil, is al Qaeda’s paramilitary force that closely operates with the Taliban and other jihadist groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan. [see LWJ report, Al Qaeda’s paramilitary ‘Shadow Army’.]

As late as August 2014, the US government said that Harakat-ul-Mujahideen, an al Qaeda and Taliban-linked jihadist group that is based in Pakistan, operates training facilities in Afghanistan.

“HUM also operates terrorist training camps in eastern Afghanistan and has conducted a number of operations against Indian troops and civilian targets in the Kashmir region,” the US State Department said in its update to Harakat-ul-Mujahideen’s Foreign Terrorist Organization designation in August 2014. A follow-up inquiry to State by The Long War Journal confirmed that the HUM camps in eastern Afghanistan are still in operation. The exact number and locations of the camps were not disclosed.

Additionally, al Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Taiba are known to operate several training camps in the eastern Afghan provinces of Kunar and Nuristan. A dual-hatted Taliban and al Qaeda military commander known as Qari Zia Rahman is known to have run training camps that are used to indoctrinate and train females, including children, to carry out suicide attacks on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border. And ISAF has targeted several bases and camps in Kunar over the years. [See LWJ report, ISAF captures al Qaeda’s top Kunar commander.]

Other photos being circulated by jihadists of the Taliban “special forces” camp:

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Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of The Long War Journal. Caleb Weiss is an intern at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a contributor to The Long War Journal.

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