A Tajik terrorist is the commander of the Taliban in northern Afghanistan

While the Taliban continue to maintain that they do not allow foreign fighters into Afghanistan, a Tajik national and commander of the al-Qaeda-linked Jamaat Ansarullah retains control of several districts in a northern Afghan province.

During the Taliban’s rapid offensive across Afghanistan last spring and summer, the Taliban placed five districts in the northern province of Badakhshan under the control of Mahdi Arsalon, a Tajik national and commander of the Jamaat Ansarullah (JA) linked to Al-Qaeda. Arsalon was given control of the districts by Qari Fasihuddin, a Tajik Taliban commander who was shadow governor of Badakhshan at the time. Fasihuddin has since been appointed Taliban Chief of Staff.

The clear cooperation between the Taliban and Jamaat Ansarullah directly contradicts the Taliban’s repeated assertions that their regime does not offer refuge to foreign fighters. In an interview with CNN last week, Taliban Interior Minister and head of the Haqqani Network, Siraj Haqqani, doubled down on his claim, to declare that the Taliban do not support foreign fighters and do not allow Afghanistan to serve as fertile ground or a launching pad for terrorism.

Many terrorist groups including Al-Qaeda, Taliban Movement in Pakistan, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Harakat-ul-Mujahideen, Hizbul Mujahideen, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Turkistan Isamic Party, Katibat Imam Bukhari and a host of others are known to operate inside Afghanistan. These groups are closely allied with the Taliban and helped the group gain control of the country in order to establish the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

On his Facebook account, Arsalon recently posted videos of fighters from the Jamaat Ansarullah, or “Tajik Taliban” forces operating along the border between Afghanistan and Tajikistan in the districts of Kuf Ab, Khwahan, Maimay, Nusay and Shekay.

Arsalon, also known as Muhamma Sharifov, was born in the Rasht Valley in eastern Tajikistan. He joined Jamaat Ansarullah in 2014. Described as “dangerous and ruthless”, Arsalon followed in the jihadist footsteps of his father and older brother, both of whom were killed by Tajik security forces. He acted as a recruiter for the organization before rising through the ranks to a leadership role which saw him assume command in Badakhshan.

Jamaat Ansarullah: Operating in Afghanistan for two decades

Jamaat Ansarullah is an Al-Qaeda-linked terrorist organization that emerged in Tajikistan in 2006 as the Tajik branch of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). The group first rose to prominence with a suicide bombing in Khujand, the capital of Tajikistan’s Sughd region, in September 2010.

This bombing, targeting the local police headquarters, killed 3 people and injured 25 others. Local officials said the suicide bomber trained at al-Qaeda camps in Pakistan’s tribal areas. In 2012, the group was banned from Tajikistan as a state-threatening extremist organization.

The terrorist organization, which aims to replace the Dushanbe government with an Islamic regime, has exploited in northern Afghanistan since its inception, supported by the IMU and the Taliban. Even after its leader, Mullah Amriddin Tabarov, was killed by Afghan forces in 2015, JA maintained its presence in Afghanistan, including training facilities.

However, in Afghanistan, doubts arose about JA’s manpower and capabilities, as reports indicated it had less than 100 fighters. Despite its size, the Tajik terror group has continued to recruit from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Central Asia and even Russia, with dozens of members arrested in Russia and Tajikistan.

On the ground, he previously highlighted conduct joint operations along with other foreign jihadist groups, in particular the Uyghur Islamic Party of Turkestan and the Uzbek Islamic Jihad Union, itself also a dissent from the MIO, in northern Afghanistan.

In its propaganda from Afghanistan, he regularly featured prominently al-Qaeda commanders, in addition to using clips from other al-Qaeda groups, such as Shabaab in Somalia, the former Al Nusrah Front in Syria (now Hay’at Tahrir al Sham) and the Turkestan Islamic Party.

In July 2021, as the Taliban gobbled up territory against the hapless ANDSF, they handed over the protection of five Badakhshan districts to JA under Mahdi Arsalon, a Tajik national. In 2021, Tajik authorities estimated that Arsalon commanded around 200 Tajik fighters in this section of Badakhshan, contradicting Taliban claims that its ranks did not include foreign fighters, especially Tajiks.

In September 2021, Tajik security reports indicated that Arsalon was planning JA operations to infiltrate Tajikistan. After the fall of Kabul, Arsalon reportedly consulted Taliban leaders in the Afghan capital for operational advice.

The only way for the Taliban to propagate their lie about Afghanistan’s supposed lack of foreign fighters is to integrate these forces into its hierarchy, as they are clearly attempting with Arsalan and its JA contingent.

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Key words: Afghanistan, Al-Qaeda, Jamaat Ansarullah, Mahdi Arsalon, Tajikistan, Taliban

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