Below is a translation of a report by the Russian outlet Kommersant on 20 June 1997 by Oved Lobel, an analyst focused on inter alia Russia’s role in the Islamic world and who recently wrote a report on the history of Afghanistan’s war dating back to the early 1970s. The article is interesting in many respects, perhaps most of all in showing the very limited military capacity of the Taliban, intimately linked to its overwhelming unpopularity among Afghans. The article discusses some of the draconian practices of the Taliban that made it so despised, as well as its governing structure, and focuses on the situation in the summer of 1997, when the Northern Alliance broke the Taliban’s hold on Pul-i-Khumri and halted their offensive on Mazar-i-Sharif. As we now know with hindsight, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Army would rescue the Taliban from this predicament. The Pakistani role in underwriting the Taliban’s military advances is covered in the article, and this pattern of Taliban retreats that forced an escalation of Pakistani intervention was a repetitive one during the late 1990s. Ultimately, indeed, as covered in Oved’s report, the Taliban enterprise would basically crumble in 2000 and the Pakistan Army had to overtly invade to allow the jihadists to conquer Taloqan. This history remains relevant at the present. As Afghan President Ashraf Ghani told U.S. President Joe Biden three weeks before his government was overwhelmed by the Taliban on 15 August: “We are facing a full-scale invasion, composed of Taliban [with] full Pakistani planning and logistical support”. Continue reading →
The Islamic State’s (IS) caliph, Ibrahim al-Badri (Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi), appeared on Thursday to deliver his first speech in nearly a year. Other than the contents of the speech, al-Badri’s re-appearance was confirmation that the claim by the Russian government, on 16 June, to have killed al-Badri and 330 other IS jihadists in a 28 May airstrike in Syria, was false. This is far from the first mendacious claim Moscow has made on this topic.
On 8 September, the Russian Ministry of Defence claimed it had killed “four influential field commanders”, one of whom was Tarad al-Jarba (Abu Muhammad al-Shimali), and forty other IS jihadists, in an airstrike near Deir Ezzor city. Later in the day, the Russians claimed day that another of the four commanders was Gulmurod Khalimov (Abu Umar al-Tajiki), named by the U.S.-led coalition as IS’s War Minister. In fact, it is likely that Khalimov was already dead and that al-Jarba is still alive. Continue reading →
A year ago, I wrote a report documenting the biographies of Islamic State (IS) leaders and something of the structure of the organisation. Since then, the intricacies of the structure have been further revealed, even as it has somewhat crumbled in practice. The caliphate—the statelet built by IS—has been significantly degraded: the Iraqi “capital”, Mosul, has fallen, and operation to clear the Syrian “capital”, Raqqa, is underway. More significantly, upwards of 40% of those profiled have been killed, so it seemed an opportune moment for an update on who currently leads the world’s most infamous terrorist movement. Continue reading →
The evidence is mounting that Vladimir Putin’s government supports the Taliban as a means of thwarting NATO interests in Afghanistan. Russia has long manipulated terrorists, internally and abroad, to suit its policy aims, but as Moscow solidifies its relationship with the Iranian revolution the Russian policy, particularly in Syria, has become something more like a conventional alliance—not least because those who run Tehran’s foreign policy and the clerical regime’s most powerful assets are themselves terrorists. Continue reading →