The Taliban claimed that nearly 200 security personnel and 140 government officials defected to the jihadist group in the embattled northeastern province of Nuristan over the past week. While the claim has not been verified, previous Taliban reports of defections have proven to be correct.
The claim of mass defections in Nuristan was made on Nov. 29 in a statement that was released on Voice of Jihad, the Taliban’s official website. The Taliban said the defections occurred after it launched a “grand scale operation and clearance campaign” in the district of Waygal in Nuristan.
“Al-Emarah News says as many as 198 military personnel and including army, police and Arbakis [tribal militia] with 140 government officials have changed side[s] to [the] Islamic Emirate and joined up with Mujahideen in eastern Nuristan province of Afghanistan in the past few days,” the Taliban claimed.
“It was a result [of] struggle and efforts, speeches and propagation of oneness of Allah in the light of Islamic sharia [law] on the part of Mujahideen that 338 military personnel and officials of the stooge regime [Afghan government] broke off their ties with Kabul administration and joined force[s] with [the] Mujahideen of the Islamic Emirate,” the statement continued.
After the security personnel and government officials joined the Taliban, “a council was organized by renowned Ulama (scholars) and prominent tribal elders aimed at improving popular belief and changing the public mindset toward the right path.”
The Taliban’s claim of mass defections in Nuristan has not been corroborated by independent Afghan news reports, and reporting from Nuristan has been scarce. However, previous Taliban claims of defections and troops surrendering have been confirmed. For instance, in mid-November, the Taliban said that 70 Afghan soldiers and officers surrendered in Helmand province. Afghan officials first denied the report, but the surrender was later acknowledged.
Nuristan is a known haven for the Taliban and allied groups, such as al Qaeda and the Lashkar-e-Taiba. When the US military maintained combat outposts in the province before withdrawing in 2011, the jihadists often launched coordinated assaults on bases.
The Afghan government and the Coalition halted counterinsurgency operations in Nuristan and neighboring Kunar after the US military withdrew from several combat outposts in the rugged, remote provinces. Instead, US forces, as a senior US general described it in April 2011, switched to “mowing the grass.” Before the drawdown of US forces began in 2012, US special operations forces and conventional troops launched periodic sweeps and raids to target Taliban fighters. Today, the US occasionally launches drone and air strikes in Nuristan while hunting al Qaeda commanders and others.
Osama bin Laden considered Nuristan to be one of four key provinces where key al Qaeda leaders and operatives could be relocated to in order to avoid US drone strikes in Pakistan. In a letter dated October 21, 2010, bin Laden told Atiyah Abd al Rahman, then al Qaeda’s general manager, that he should relocate as many “brothers” as possible to the eastern Afghan provinces of Nuristan, Kunar, Ghazni, and Zabul to avoid the US drone campaign in North and South Waziristan. [See LWJ report, Bin Laden advised relocation of some leaders to Afghanistan due to drone strikes in Waziristan.]
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