Against the backdrop of intense attacks by the Taliban in Helmand province of Afghanistan, a top Afghan official has said that fighters from Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) are involved in the fighting.
The crucial province has witnessed violent clashes between the Taliban and Afghan forces since the last weekend, and the UN has said some 35,000 people have been displaced by the fighting. Taliban cadres launched offensives to capture cities such as provincial capital of Lashkargah and several districts.
Helmand’s governor Yasin Khan has said foreign fighters associated LeT, JeM and al-Qaeda are backing the Taliban in the attacks. Though the Taliban captured several check posts, Afghan forces have mounted counter-attacks to drive them out.
The Taliban have provided safe havens to foreign fighters from the three terrorist organisations, and they, in turn, are providing military and bomb-making training to Taliban fighters, Khan was quoted as saying by Tolo News channel.
“There is the presence of al-Qaeda, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Lashkar-e-Taiba and terrorists from Central Asia. They collaborated with the Taliban now and in the past,” Khan said.
A Taliban spokesman was quoted by Tolo News as rejecting the governor’s remarks.
A former Indian intelligence official, who was involved in tracking developments in Afghanistan, said reports suggested the Taliban fighters in Helmand were not under the control of the organisation’s leaders who are involved in the ongoing talks in Doha with the Afghan government.
“Reports also suggest that the groups in Helmand are under the influence of Iran and that was the reason why the US swiftly launched counter strikes in Helmand. The province is crucial as it has traditional been the route to capturing power in Kabul,” he said, declining to be identified.
People familiar with developments also said the Taliban groups in Helmand were being supported by Pakistan and Iran and were opposed to the talks underway in Doha.
Helmand is also one of the main poppy growing areas in Afghanistan and crucial for the illegal narcotics trade, which generates sizeable funds for the Taliban.
A UN report issued in May this year had said there are some 6,500 Pakistanis among foreign terrorists operating in Afghanistan, and that the JeM and LeT play a key role in bringing foreign fighters into the war-torn country.
The groups have a presence in the eastern Afghan provinces of Kunar, Nangarhar and Nuristan, “where they operate under the umbrella of the Afghan Taliban”, according to the report from the UN Security Council’s analytical support and sanctions monitoring team.