Scores of jihadists from both the Taliban and the Islamic State’s Khorasan province have been killed in several skirmishes in northern Afghanistan over the past two weeks. The clashes have mainly taken place in the northern provinces of Jawzjan and Sar-e-Pul, areas in which the two have previously fought.
The ongoing fighting between the Islamic State and the Taliban in Jawzjan and Sar-i-pul has hampered the Taliban’s campaign in the northern provinces, as it has forced it to divert forces to deal with the upstart jihadist group. Additionally, the Islamic State’s ability to mass and occasionally control territory threatens the Taliban’s narrative that it is the only legitimate opposition to the Afghan government.
The Taliban has had a similar problem with the Islamic State in Nangarhar province, where the two groups frequently clash in a handful of districts while aslo battling Afghan and US forces.
Fighting renewed between the jihadist groups earlier this month after Islamic State militants stormed Taliban positions in Darzab, a hotly contested district which is no stranger to battle among these groups. After capturing a Taliban-held town, the Islamic State then beheaded 10 captured Taliban members. As a result, the Taliban targeted Islamic State positions in Darzab and Qush Tepa, as well as another contested district in Jawzjan on July 12.
Then on July 16, at least six Taliban fighters and four from the Islamic State were reportedly killed in clashes in Darzab. Yesterday, another skirmish between the two left a further 15 jihadists dead in the Sayyad district of Sar-i-Pul.
The Islamic State also captured a Taliban commander, Mullah Burjan, and subsequently beheaded him after another clash in Darzab yesterday. Afghan officials have reported that after the beheading, increased Taliban skirmishes with Islamic State-loyal militants have occurred in Darzab. The same officials have said at least 250 jihadists have been killed in the fighting, however, the accuracy of this estimate is questionable.
Clashes between the Taliban and the Islamic State have long been reported in northern Afghanistan. Earlier this year, thousands of civilians were displaced due to fighting in Jawzjan, which also took place last year.
Both the Taliban and the Islamic State have fought for control over Darzab and Qush Tepa. In June 2017, several fighters on both sides were killed as Darzab changed hands between Islamic State, Taliban, and Afghan control multiple times. A month prior, at least 100 militants from both sides were reportedly killed in clashes in Darzab.
The Islamic State’s presence in Jawzjan was further cemented in 2017 when Qari Hikmat, a prominent Taliban commander, and 300 of his men defected from the Taliban to the Islamic State. Late last year, Taliban forces clashed with Hikmat’s men numerous times in both Darzab and Qush Tepa.
The US military struck a blow to the Islamic State’s Khorasan province in April when it killed Hikmat in an airstrike in Faryab province. Hikmat, who also was a leader in the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan before joining the Islamic State, was an influential leader in Darzab and was the key facilitator “for external support and foreign fighters from Central Asian states into Afghanistan,” according to the US military. He has since been replaced by Mawlavi Habibul Rahman.