The official spokesman for the Afghan Taliban promoted a set of photographs that feature “Commando Mujahidin” who have graduated from training at the Mahmud Ghaznawi Military Camp. The Taliban has promoted training at its camps in at least 20 videos over the past several years.
Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman, pointed to the photographs on his Twitter feed on Jan. 21. The photographs likely are screen shots from an upcoming Taliban video that will feature the training of the “commandos.”
The camp is named after a Muslim conquerer who at the end of the 10th century took control of Afghanistan, eastern Iran, and what is now known as Pakistan.
The location of the camp was not disclosed, but it is situated in a mountainous area. If it is located in Afghanistan, its existence further highlights the deteriorating security situation. If it is in Pakistan, then it highlights that country’s unwavering support for the Taliban.
The Taliban is operating unhindered and in the open, without fear of reprisal from Afghan, Resolute Support or Pakistani aircraft. Taliban flags are flying throughout the camp.
The Taliban has been keen to promote training of its “commandos” and “special forces” of late. While these training videos are often mocked, including by the spokesman for Resolute Support and US Forces – Afghanistan, the graduates from these camps have been effective at battling Afghan security forces. Just yesterday, three Taliban commandos killed more than 100 Afghan security personnel in an attack on a military training base in Wardak province.
These fighters often serve at the tip of the spear for the Taliban assaults on district centers and cities. They have also launched deadly attacks against Afghan bases and military personnel.
One graduate was able to infiltrate the governor of Kandahar’s bodyguard in Oct. 2018 and then kill General Raziq, arguably the most powerful and influential man in southern Afghanistan. The Taliban attacker almost killed General Miller, the commander of Resolute Support and US Forces – Afghanistan.
Background on jihadist training camps in Afghanistan
The Taliban has publicly flaunted at least 20 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. Last 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.”
The Pakistani Taliban has also taken advantage of the worsening security situation in Afghanistan to shelter there. In March 2018, 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.
A selection of images from the Mahmud Ghaznawi Military Camp