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  • Writer's pictureAfghan Witness

Taliban continue raids against ISKP in May, claim killing of Deputy Governor in Kabul

A significant decrease in ISKP-claimed attacks corresponds with the Taliban’s intensified operations against the group in recent months.

Over the past month, the Taliban continued to carry out raids against Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) in Kabul, with three raids over the course of three days between May 5 and May 8. Two raids occurred in the Bagrami district, Police District (PD) 22, east of Kabul city, and a third in the Shakardara area, north of Kabul city.

The Taliban claimed that the Deputy Governor of the Islamic State Khorasan Division, “Engineer Omar”, was among the ISKP fighters killed in the incidents, although this claim is currently unverifiable.

As with previous Taliban operations against the group, the raids were actively promoted by Taliban-affiliated media and amplified on social media by influencers and primitive copy-paste campaigns, highlighting their importance to the Taliban’s efforts to maintain a narrative of progress against ISKP.

May 5: GDI raid in Bagrami district allegedly kills ISKP deputy governor

On May 5, 2023, various pro-Taliban Twitter accounts claimed that forces from the General Directorate of Intelligence (GDI) performed a raid on an alleged ISKP hideout in Kabul province. The posts stated the special operation occurred in the Bagrami district of Kabul province, located in the south-east of the capital, in PD22. Citing sources, Hurriyat Radio, a Kabul-based radio network, said the raid had resulted in “the killing of all ISIS elements present at the scene”.

On May 8, Al-Mersaad, a pro-Taliban, anti-ISKP platform, claimed that one of two ISKP members killed on May 5 was the Deputy Governor of the Islamic State Khorasan Province, named as “Engineer Omar”. In an article, Al-Mersaad provided details about the identity of Engineer Omar, also known as Haidar, Faraydoon and Sikandar. According to the article, he joined ISKP in 2017. He served as the head of the group for Kabul and then for the central zone before being appointed as deputy to the ISKP leader, Sanaullah Ghafari, alias Shahab Al-Muhajir.

Figure: Tweet from the pro-Taliban ‘Al-Mersaad’ media, showing the photo of the alleged deputy leader of ISKP, Engineer Omar.

AW could not verify the claim by Al-Mersaad, as no information about Engineer Omar is available in open sources. No independent source has confirmed his position as deputy of ISKP or his killing during the Taliban raid.

In March 2018, the National Directorate of Security (NDS) of Afghanistan announced the arrest of two ISKP members, including the group's military head for Kabul, also naming him as Omar. The NDS released a video of the confession from Omar, which said that he graduated from the computer science faculty. While the names of the two and their roles within ISKP seem similar to each other on paper, the photos available appear to show different people.

Figure: The photo of Omar captured from the NDS video in 2018 (left) and the photo of Engineer Omar, allegedly killed by the Taliban in a raid on May 5, 2023, in Kabul (right).

If true, the killing of ISKP’s Deputy Leader would mark another senior loss in a short timeframe, following the reported killing of Mawlawi Ziauddin – also known as Mawlawi Mohammad, described as ISKP’s second in command – after a series of raids in Mazar-i-Sharif in March.

May 8: GDI raids target second ISKP cell in Bagrami district

On May 9, Al-Mersaad published an article claiming the GDI performed two additional raids against alleged ISKP hideouts in Kabul on the evening of May 8. According to the news agency, one of the special operations occurred in the Bagrami district of Kabul – the same location as the raid on May 5. The second operation allegedly occurred in the Shakardara area, north of Kabul city.

Al-Mersaad published additional details on the raids on their official Twitter account, claiming that the two special operations in Kabul killed seven alleged ISKP members, and adding that “some of them were carrying weapons, ammunition and explosives”.

Abdul Wadud Omar, a Taliban influencer and official, shared [WARNING: GRAPHIC] photos of three male bodies allegedly belonging to ISKP members. According to his tweet, “As a result of the operation in Bagrami district, five Khawarij were killed, one woman and two children were captured alive, light and heavy weapons were also captured”.

In one of the shared photos, it is possible to see the damage caused to the alleged ISKP property due to the GDI raid. Although AW investigators could not geolocate the exact residence, it was possible to establish that it was likely located within the Bagrami district in PD22:

Figure: Geolocation of the approximate area of the raid against an alleged ISKP hideout in the Bagrami district of Kabul, PD22, on May 8.

Ahmadshah Baba Meena, a Twitter account with over 3k followers, shared additional [WARNING: GRAPHIC] photos of the alleged aftermath of one of the raids on May 8. The residential property in the photos presented the same type of damage seen in previous raids in Kabul. A large part of the walls were collapsed, likely due to the use of explosives during the special operation. In addition, all the glass was shattered, and the walls had markings of possible bullet impact. The images shared by Omar showing the bodies of three adult males were taken in the same location as the photos shared by Ahmadshah Baba Meena, as seen below.

Figure: Comparison between the photo showing bodies of alleged ISKP members after the Bagrami district raid in Kabul on May 8 (left) and a photo showing damage to property (right).

May 8: Raid in Shakardara district, North of Kabul

In addition to the Bagrami raid, Al-Mersaad claimed a second raid occurred in Kabul province on the evening of May 8. According to various pro-Taliban news agencies, the GDI targeted an ISKP residence in the Shakardara district.

On May 9, various pro-Taliban Twitter users shared photos of a body of an adult male allegedly killed during the special operation against an ISKP hideout in the Shakardara district of Kabul. According to posts, the man in the photo was the only alleged ISKP member killed during the operation, with two others captured alive. However, AW investigators could not verify the body's location as the photo was taken indoors with no visible landmarks.

Although various pro-Taliban news agencies and [WARNING: GRAPHIC] users claimed the GDI seized weapons and ammunition during the raids, AW investigators could not see evidence of an arsenal in any of the photos shared on social media.

Al-Mersaad suggests more high-profile ISKP members killed than officially announced

On May 20, Al-Mersaad published an infographic in multiple languages containing details about operations conducted against ISKP cells between February 13 and May 9. AW investigators compared the reported information with AW’s data from the same time frame. The numbers provided by Al-Mersaad regarding the operations, locations, and casualties resulting from the raids closely matched the findings collected by AW. However, according to the platform, 14 "important figures" of the terror group were reported killed, although the exact identities of these individuals remain unclear. Taliban officials have only confirmed the deaths of seven high-ranking ISKP members within the specified date range.

Al-Mersaad claimed that, between February 13 and May 9, the Taliban performed operations targeting ISKP cells in five different provinces of Afghanistan: Balkh, Kabul, Herat, Faryab, and Nimruz. AW investigators logged Taliban-led raids against alleged ISKP hideouts in seven provinces. In addition to the ones mentioned by the news agency, AW investigators also logged incidents reported in Jawzjan and Parwan. Al-Mersaad’s failure to report on the Parwan province raids is noteworthy as the raid was documented by various pro-Taliban and Taliban-controlled media outlets.

ISKP activity decreases amid Taliban raids

In recent months, ISKP activity has significantly declined. AW’s monitoring shows no attacks were claimed in Afghanistan between April 16, 2023, and May 16, 2023, marking the second period of ISKP inactivity since the Taliban's rise to power in 2021. Between January 16, 2023, and February 16, 2023, AW had also not recorded any claimed attacks.

Graph showing ISKP inactivity in the most recent monitoring period, corresponding with an uptick in Taliban operations against the group in recent months.

In March, several high-profile attacks targeted senior Taliban officials and journalists, as well as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kabul. In response to these attacks, the Taliban carried out a series of raids against alleged ISKP cells throughout Afghanistan. Between March 16, 2023, and May 16, 2023, AW recorded 20 operations against ISKP in Afghanistan. The intensification of raids against the group corresponds with a decrease in ISKP activity, with no major attacks claimed since late March.

As of June 1, 2023, ISKP remains inactive in Afghanistan, with no new claimed attacks.

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