U.N.: Thousands of Pakistanis fight in Afghanistan alongside the Taliban

The black-and-white banner of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the front group for the Lashkar-e-Taiba, is prevalent at an anti-US rally in Lahore in December 2011. AP photo.

Thousands of Pakistanis, including fighters from Pakistani proxies, continue to support the Taliban’s jihad against the Afghan government, according to a new report by a United Nations monitoring team. The report highlighted Pakistan’s double game of claiming to fight terrorism while backing terror groups that further its foreign policy goals.

“One Member State reported that the total number of Pakistani nationals fighting with terrorist groups in Afghanistan may be as high as 6,000 to 6,500,” said the 11th report from the U.N.’s Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team.

The report singled out three major Pakistan-based groups for participation: the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan (Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP), Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM). All three groups operate inside Afghanistan with the permission and support of the Taliban.

“The presence of these groups is centered in the eastern provinces of Kunar, Nangarhar and Nuristan, where they operate under the umbrella of the Afghan Taliban,” the report stated.

The U.N. report devastated claims made by Zalmay Khalilzad, who has lauded Pakistan for its support of the so-called Afghan ‘peace process.’ On April 30, 2019, Khalilzad – the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation – said that Pakistan “supports efforts to accelerate intra-Afghan dialogue and negotiations, and is committed to helping reduce violence” in Afghanistan.

Khalilzad’s April 2019 statement tweet was in direct contrast to his Congressional testimony in July 2016, when he called Pakistan “a State Sponsor of Terror.” [See Khalilzad flip flops on Pakistan, Taliban’s relationship with al Qaeda.]

FDD’s Long War Journal cannot independently corroborate the report as the information is based on on intelligence provided by members states. However, a number of Pakistani groups are known to operate inside Afghanistan and fight alongside the Taliban, and top leaders of Pakistani terror groups have been killed inside Afghanistan. Additionally, a number of Pakistanis are known to fight in the ranks of the Islamic State’s Khorasan Province (ISKP).

The TTP is an enemy of the Pakistani state, and has waged a brutal insurgency in northwestern Pakistan and conducted terror attacks throughout the country since it was founded in late 2006. Yet Pakistan supports the Afghan Taliban, which shelters and supports the TTP. [For more on Pakistan’s use of strategic depth and its support of so-called “good Taliban” groups, see FDD’s Long War Journal report, Pakistan: Friend or Foe in the Fight Against Terrorism?.]

The TPP “is thought to have approximately 500 fighters in Kunar and about 180 in Nangarhar,” according to the report.

While not noted in the U.N. report, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed are proxies of the Pakistani state. These two groups are two of the largest Pakistan-backed terror proxies in the region. In addition to executing attacks in Afghanistan, both also conduct terror operations inside of India.

LeT and JeM “facilitate the trafficking of terrorist fighters into Afghanistan, who act as advisers, trainers and specialists in improvised explosive devices, according to the report. “Both groups are responsible for carrying out targeted assassinations against [Afghan] government officials and others.”

LeT has approximately 800 fighters in Afghanistan, while JeM has an estimated 200 in country.

The U.N. report provided some additional details on the locations of LeT, JeM, and TTP fighters inside Afghanistan.

LeT and JeM fighters are “co-located with Taliban forces in Mohmand Darah, Dur Baba and Sherzad Districts of Nangarhar Province. [TTP] also maintains a presence in Lal Pura District, near the border area of Mohmand Darah, Pakistan. In Kunar Province, [LeT] retains a further 220 fighters and has a further 30, all of whom are dispersed within Taliban forces.”

While not explicitly mentioned in the U.N.’s latest report, other Pakistani terrorist proxies are known to operate in Afghanistan. In Aug. 2014, the U.S. State Department noted that Harakat-ul-Mujahideen was running several training camps inside Afghanistan. U.S. military and intelligence officials have told FDD’s Long War Journal that these HuM camps remain active to this day. [See Harakat-ul-Mujahideen ‘operates terrorist training camps in eastern Afghanistan’.]

HuM is one of many terrorist groups backed by the Pakistani state. In Sept. 2014, the U.S. added Fazle-ur-Rahman Khalil, the longtime emir of HuM and a key ally of al Qaeda, to its list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists. Yet the Pakistani state has done nothing to arrest or even restrain Khalil. In fact, in 2018, Khalil joined Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s political party.

Meanwhile. Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs maintains that no terror groups operate on Pakistani soil.

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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