As U.S. seeks peace, Taliban celebrates its jihadist training camps

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Taliban fighters sporting night vision devices and body armor during nighttime training. Image from the Taliban’s Voice of Jihad website.

As the Biden administration desperately presses the Taliban and the Afghan government to settle the 20 year old war for control of Afghanistan before the May 1 deadline for U.S. troops to withdraw, the Taliban continues to promote its training camps that pump out jihadist fighters who indiscriminately attack Afghan civilians, soldiers and police.

On March 20, the Taliban released dozens of images of “Hundreds of Mujahidin [holy warriors] and martyrdom seekers” who “have graduated from Khalid bin Waleed, Al-Fateh and Hazrat Abu Bakr Siddique Military Camps of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.” The images were released on Voice of Jihad, the Taliban’s official website.

The images are standard fare for Taliban propaganda. Well-equipped fighters with new weapons, gear, and vehicles are pictured in various stages of training. Some of the images show the Taliban fighters donning night vision devices and body armor during nighttime training. The images portray a well-funded, trained and equipped Taliban force.

In a departure from previous propaganda, the Taliban attempts to hide the terrain features in photographs showing Taliban fighters assembled for what appears to be either an instruction session or a graduation ceremony (see second image, below). The Taliban has not made efforts to hide the background features of its camps in the past.

The Khalid bin Waleed, Al Fateh, and Hazrat Abu Bakr Siddique camps have been promoted by the Taliban several times recently. The Khalid bin Waleed Military Camp is actually a network of 12 training facilities, according to the Taliban. The Khalid bin Waleed military complex “trains recruits in 8 provinces (Helmand, Kandahar, Ghazni, Ghor, Saripul, Faryab, Farah and Maidan Wardak) and “has around 300 military trainers and scholars,” and “can train up to 2000 recruits at a single time and trains them in the fields of Shariah, military, technical and intelligence,” the Taliban claimed in Nov. 2016.

Other training centers promoted by the Taliban include the Shaheed Ustaz Aasim in the Lions Den in Paktia province, the Intiqam Giran-e-Quran Camp in Faryab province, the Omar bin Khattab Training Camp in Kunduz province and the Abu Dujana Camp in Sar-i-Pul province. The Taliban has disclosed the existence but not the location of the the Salahadin Ayyubi Camp, the Abdullah bin Mubarak Jihad Training Camp, the Al Farouq Training Camp, and an unnamed “special forces” training camp.

The Al Fateh Military Camp is used to train elite Taliban formations, including its Red Unit (the Taliban’s shock troops), suicide teams, and other so-called martyrdom-seekers. Sirajuddin Haqqani and Mullah Mohammad Yaqoub celebrated the Taliban’s suicide teams in audio messages that were delivered at a graduation ceremony at the Al Fateh Military Camp in June 2020. Sirajuddin is one of two deputy Taliban emirs and the influential leader of the Haqqani Network. Yacoub is the Taliban’s other deputy emir, and is the son of Taliban founder and first emir Mullah Omar. Both are heavily involved in the Taliban’s military operations.

Other jihadist groups, including Al Qaeda, are known to operate camps inside Afghanistan. In 2015, the U.S. raided an Al Qaeda camp in Bermal district in Paktika, and two others in the Shorabak district in Kandahar province. The outgoing commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, General John Campbell, said that one of the camps in Shorabak was the largest in Afghanistan since the U.S. invaded in 2001. Al Qaeda has also operated camps in Helmand, Kunar and Nuristan. Afghan officials claim that Al Qaeda is currently operating a training camp Baramcha in Disho district in Helmand province (FDD’s Long War Journal reported the existence of these camps in 2015.]

Harakat-ul-Mujahideen, a Pakistani jihadist group that is closely allied with Al Qaeda, “operates terrorist training camps in eastern Afghanistan,” the U.S. 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.

Despite the Taliban’s insistence on the restoration of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, with its emir as the leader, and its continued cooperation with Al Qaeda and other jihadist groups, the Biden administration is seeking to broker a peace agreement between the Taliban and the Afghan government. The U.S., in its Feb. 29 2020 agreement with the Taliban, agreed to leave Afghanistan by May 1, 2021 in exchange for vague and unenforceable counterterrorism assurances and the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners. However the Biden administration is looking to extend its presence. The Taliban has openly stated that the U.S. must adhere to the terms of the agreement, and it would “continue its jihad” against U.S. forces if the agreement is not honored.

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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