Taliban camp in Baghlan emphasizes tenuous security situation in Afghan north

In a video released by the Taliban yesterday promoting its “Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour Camp” in Baghlan province, jihadists were once again marching through a town and driving in the desert in broad daylight, without fear of reprisal from Afghan and Coalition forces. The video highlighted the worsening security situation in the Afghan north, including Baghlan, where 12 of the province’s 14 districts are contested and one is controlled by the Taliban.

The Taliban video showed the group’s fighters in various stages of training as well as conducting operations in the province. The camp is named after Mullah Mansour, the previous emir of the Taliban who was killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province in May 2016.

The exact location of the camp was not disclosed by the Taliban. However, the group is known to control one district (Dahana-I-Ghuri), and contests the other 12 of Baghlan’s 14 districts, including the provincial capital of Pul-i-Khurmi, according to data compiled by FDD’s Long War Journal. Only the district of Andarab is considered to be “government influenced,” according to Resolute Support. However, this status indicates that the Taliban has some presence in the district and is not fully under government control.

In one scene, a company-sized Taliban force marched through a town in Baghlan with Taliban banners held high. Taliban vehicles blocked the roads to allow the fighters space to march. The movement was conducted during broad daylight.

In another clip, Taliban fighters mounted on vehicles, including a host of captured US-supplied HUMVEEs and Ford Ranger pickup trucks moved through are rural area in broad daylight, again with white Taliban flags flying proud.

Other scenes showed Taliban fighters during training, running through an obstacle course, firing weapons, conducting assaults, patrolling, and marching in the desert. The scenes from the obstacle course were reminiscent of al Qaeda training videos from the 1990s. And while many Taliban training camp videos appear to show makeshift or transitory facilities, the Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour Camp appears to be a permanent structure.

Jihadist training camps in Afghanistan

The Taliban has publicly flaunted at least 18 of its training camps since the end of 2014. In late 2015, the Taliban announced that its Khalid bin Walid Camp operated 12 satellite facilities throughout Afghanistan, and had the capacity to “train up to 2,000 recruits at a single time.” Additionally, it said the Khalid bin Walid Camp “trains recruits in eight provinces (Helmand, Kandahar, Ghazni, Ghor, Saripul, Faryab, Farah and Maidan Wardak) and “has around 300 military trainers and scholars.”

Other jihadist groups, including al Qaeda, are also known to operate camps inside Afghanistan. In 2015, the US raided an al Qaeda camp in Bermal district in Paktika, and two others in the Shorabak district in Kandahar province. The outgoing commander of US Forces in Afghanistan, General John Campbell, said that one of the camps in Shorabak was the largest in Afghanistan since the US invaded in 2001. Al Qaeda has also operated camps in Kunar and Nuristan.

Harakat-ul-Mujahideen, a Pakistani jihadist group closely allied with al Qaeda, “operates terrorist training camps in eastern Afghanistan,” the US government stated in 2014. The Turkistan Islamic Party, the Islamic Jihad Union, and the Imam Bukhari Jamaat, an Uzbek jihadist group that operates in both Syria and Afghanistan, have all claimed to operate camps inside Afghanistan. Coalition forces have also raided Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan suicide training camps in Samagan and Sar-i-Pul in 2011.

Additionally, the US military has targeted training centers used by the Turkistan Islamic Party and the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan over the past several months. In February, the US military said it struck “Taliban training facilities in Badakhshan province, preventing the planning and rehearsal of terrorist acts near the border with China and Tajikistan by such organizations as the East Turkistan Islamic Movement and others.”

In March, the US military hit the Ghazi Camp in Kunar province, which was used by the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, or TTP. The son of Mullah Fazlullah, the emir of the TTP, and two commanders, including the camp’s trainer of suicide bombers, were reportedly killed.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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