The US-backed Syrian Defense Forces (SDF) announced today that Baghouz has been liberated from the Islamic State. The US considers Baghouz to be the last village that was part of the jihadists’ physical caliphate. However, a review of history and current operations shows that the Islamic State has not been entirely defeated.
In a speech released earlier this week, Islamic State spokesman Abul-Hasan al-Muhajir claimed that the group remains a “reality” despite its territorial losses. He also references the terrorist attack by a white supremacist in New Zealand earlier this week.
Zalmay Khalilzad, the Trump administration’s top envoy for talks with the Taliban, claims that he is already satisfied with the Taliban’s counterterrorism assurances. But the Taliban’s close relationship with al Qaeda stretches from the 1990s until today. The Taliban should be required to publicly renounce al Qaeda in any final deal with the US. Even then, the break would need to be verified.
The head of the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP), Abdul Haq al-Turkistani, has called on jihadist “scholars” to do more to address the plight of Uighurs. Al-Turkistani addresses his message to Taliban leader Haibatullah Akhunzada, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and a number of al Qaeda ideologues.
The Guardians of Religion organization has praised recent operations conducted by the Taliban and Shabaab.
In a message released earlier this month, Abu Ubaydah Yusuf al-Anabi, a US-designated terrorist, called for sharia governance in Algeria. Al-Anabi is a senior Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb religious figure and has led the group’s “Council of Notables.”
Earlier today, the Islamic State’s Khorasan “province” attacked a memorial held in honor of Abdul Ali Mazari, an ethnic Hazara leader who was killed by the Taliban in 1995. The Islamic State’s loyalists frequently target Shiites in the Afghan capital.
According to the UN’s Jan. 2019 assessment, al Qaeda’s relationship with the Taliban is “long-standing” and “strong.” And al Qaeda “continues to see Afghanistan as a safe haven for its leadership.” The UN estimates that the Islamic State has several thousand fighters in Afghanistan as well.