Several members of the Islamic State Khorasan Provinces’ “central council” as well as other senior and mid-level leaders based in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar have broken their oath to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi and have rejoined the Taliban. The defections are the latest in a series of moves by the Afghan Taliban to close its ranks after the death of its founder and first emir was announced last summer.
The defection of two central council members, a member of the judicial council, the leader of prisoners council, four “group leaders,” several other sub-group commanders and other officials, and “all their fighters” was announced on the Taliban’s official website, Voice of Jihad.
The defectors explained they originally left the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,” the official name of the Afghan Taliban, due to “some issues and challenges obstructing consolidation of unity, establishment and development of the Islamic Emirate as well as misunderstanding, mistrust and distance with the brothers.”
The Islamic State deserters issued a common complaint that has been leveled against the group – that its ideological rigidity and ultra-violent actions are alienating even radicals such as the Taliban:
But due to the ambiguous blind policies of Daesh, their wanton killing, beating, persecution, looting, burning, and usurping land and property of the oppressed Afghans, their displacement, treachery with their elders, depriving them of schools, clinics, public welfare projects and development, heedless towards general Muslim interests, adoption of extremism over leniency, prohibiting vice in fashion which produces corruption, Takfiri (excommunication) views of most members, improper establishment of religion, and having no reasonable, legal and regular way of fixing these problems; in short not having a remedy for the wounds of the Afghans.
The defectors returned to the Taliban fold “due to the efforts of some sincere brothers from the Islamic Emirate as well as positive, fruitful interaction and understanding nature and agreement with the Islamic Emirate.”
The former Islamic State leaders then broke their pledge to Baghdadi, and swore allegiance to Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, who was named to replace Mullah Omar in July 2015.
“Therefore in the radiant light of Muhammadi Shariah we – as the representatives of all of our Mujahideen – break our oath with the leader of Daesh or Islamic State and for the continuation of sacred duty of jihad in our motherland and for the establishment of a true Islamic government, we whole heartedly pledge our allegiance to the new Amir of Islamic Emirate, the esteemed Amir ul Mumineen Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansoor (may Allah safeguard him) and promise our comprehensive cooperation, untiring efforts and respects to him,” the statement concluded.
The deserters, who are named at the end of the statement, did not leave the Islamic State lightly. The breaking of an oath to an emir is considered to be a serious religious infraction in Islam. And since the commanders have been named, the Islamic State, which has dealt with those who disagree with it ruthlessly in the past, may be targeted for reprisal.
The defections spell problems for the Islamic State, which has struggled to gain a foothold in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Taliban has defeated Islamic State-aligned groups in Zabul, Helmand, and other areas of the country. Nangarhar is considered to be the main stronghold for the Islamic State, and its ranks have been depleted with the loss of key leaders and their followers.
For the Taliban, the reunion with old members in Nangarhar is a further strengthening of the group, which suffered losses after rifts within the movement arose in the wake of the announcement of Mullah Omar’s death and the appointment of Mullah Mansour as his successor. Mullah Zakir, who remained a member of the Taliban’s Quetta Shura, or executive council, finally swore allegiance to Mansour at the end of March. Mullahs Manan and Yacoub, Omar’s brother and eldest son, initials opposed Mansour, but swore allegiance to him and were given key leadership positions in the Taliban hierarchy.