Tag Archives: Pakistani Taliban

Ahrar al-Sham and Al-Qaeda

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on August 12, 2016

The Islamic State’s (IS) weekly newsletter, al-Naba, interviewed a high-ranking al-Qaeda defector, Abu Ubayda al-Lubnani, across two issues in February and March. Abu Ubayda appeared on a list of prominent clerics supporting IS’s caliphate declaration in February 2014, and two months later his defection from al-Qaeda to IS was announced by al-Battar. Abu Ubayda is described by al-Naba—as best as can be told accurately—as having been a member of al-Qaeda’s: Shura [Consultation] Council, a training officer in its Military Committee, and a counter-intelligence officer. Abu Ubayda is advertised as speaking about many secret aspects of al-Qaeda.

Among the topics Abu Ubayda covers is the alleged infiltration and manipulation of al-Qaeda by foreign intelligence services, specifically Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), which is not only a violation of jihadist doctrine by collaborating with an “infidel” and illegitimate state but led to the deaths of a number of senior al-Qaeda leaders.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of what Abu Ubayda has to say relates to al-Qaeda’s attempt to take advantage of the Syrian revolution. This persistent campaign has followed a pattern of disguising al-Qaeda’s presence and attempting to influence and eventually co-opt the rebellion against Bashar al-Assad’s regime. One lever al-Qaeda relied upon, according to Abu Ubayda, was Ahrar al-Sham, an organization that disclaims all connections to al-Qaeda and dissimulates about its ideology. Whatever Ahrar’s dominant ideology, it is simply a fact that it has served as the bridge between the foreign-led jihadists and Syrian Islamists, and its connections to al-Qaeda are evident enough. Abu Ubayda suggests Ahrar’s connections to al-Qaeda are even deeper than they appear. Continue reading

Intra-Jihadi Competition, Iran, and Western Staying Power in Afghanistan

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on September 1, 2015

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The Taliban on August 31 finally confessed all: its leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, had been dead since April 23, 2013. The Taliban admitted that Mullah Omar had passed from this veil of tears on July 30 but was distinctly vague on when. Omar’s death was kept secret because of “jihadi considerations,” namely the “testing” time the mujahideen were having with the “foreign invaders,” the Taliban says. While the Taliban places the emphasis on its struggle with NATO, the reality is that NATO is drawing down and the Taliban’s burgeoning foe is the Islamic State (I.S.). The Taliban is tied to al-Qaeda’s faltering brand, and conditions are militating to help I.S., not al-Qaeda, in “Khorasan”. Continue reading

Leaving Afghanistan to Iran Won’t Bring Stability—nor Keep ISIS Out

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on August 26, 2015

Published at National Review

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, one of the three major insurgent leaders in Afghanistan, a close ally of Iran

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, one of the three major insurgent leaders in Afghanistan, a close ally of Iran

The admission by the Taliban on July 30 that its leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, had died was widely seen as good news for the Islamic State (ISIS) against its jihadist competitors. But while ISIS’s growing power in Afghanistan over the last year has garnered significant attention, the rise of Iran’s influence in the country has been less noted. Worse, in the light of the nuclear agreement with the U.S., Iran’s expanded influence is held by some observers to be a stability-promoting development. This is a dangerous fantasy that has already been falsified in the Fertile Crescent, where the synergetic growth of Iran and ISIS promotes chaos and radicalism—to the advantage of both and the disadvantage of the forces of moderation and order. Continue reading