Taliban denies sharing ISIL intelligence with Russia

Afghan group dismisses Russia’s claims, saying they don’t need anyone’s support to eliminate the presence of ISIL.

Security in Herat
Security has intensified as Afghan troops, supported by some US and NATO coalition forces, battle to push back the Taliban fighters across Afghanistan [Jalil Rezayee/EPA/File]

Afghanistan’s Taliban group has officially denied any negotiations or exchange of information with Russia to fight the spread of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group in Afghanistan. 

The group dismissed the claims on Friday, saying they “don’t need anyone’s support to fight and eliminate the presence of ISIL”.

“We are having talks, but not about fighting ISIL. We want foreign forces out of our country, that is what we are talking about at the moment,” a Taliban spokesperson told Al Jazeera. 

“They [ISIL fighters] are a small bunch based only in Nangarhar (province) and are not a big or a strong group that we would be threatened with.”

The Taliban has a history of denying claims that could harm the perception of their strength or standing. 

READ MORE: Afghans fear the rising influence of Taliban

Zamir Kabulov, an official at the Russian foreign ministry and President Vladimir Putin’s special representative for Afghanistan, said earlier this week that “the Taliban interest objectively coincides with ours”.

“I have already said earlier that we and the Taliban have channels for exchanging information,” he said in remarks carried by Russian media.

“Both the Taliban of Afghanistan and the Taliban of Pakistan have said that they don’t recognise (ISIL leader Abu Bakr) Al-Baghdadi as a caliph, that they don’t recognise ISIL. Their interests coincide with ours.” 

‘Against Mullah Omar’s wishes’

Earlier, a Taliban breakaway faction condemned the Russian-Taliban “shared interest” in fighting ISIL in Afghanistan.

ISIL and the Taliban

Abdul Manan Niazi, spokesperson for the group, told Al Jazeera that partnering with Russia is “a fight against all Muslims” in the country.

“They have now turned to infidels to gather support and find a reason to kill their rivals who disagree with them and their strategies,” he said.

“This is completely against what our former leader Mullah Omar would have wished for.”

Even though Russia claims to have a communication channel with the Taliban, they are banned in the country, along with ISIL. The Taliban for more than a decade has been considered by Moscow as a potential source of terror and instability in the countries of the former Soviet Union.

ISIL has emerged in a number of different areas of Afghanistan and has vowed to step up operations.

READ MORE: ISIL hits Afghan airwaves to drum up support

A number of central Asian fighters who were initially brought to Afghanistan to fight for the Taliban have now changed allegiance and are fighting for ISIL.

The group even recently launched a radio station in the country to recruit fighters and stir up anti-government sentiment.

Kabul has not yet officially responded to the claims, but a senior Afghan intelligence official told Al Jazeera that if Russia was cooperating with the Taliban, it should apologise to the government.

“If Russia is in any way helping the Taliban, or has any relationship with the Taliban, it means they are supporting” their fight against the Afghan government, the official said.

“Any exchange of information, by any country, opens the door to another proxy war in Afghanistan,” the official added.

READ MORE: Deadly Taliban infighting erupts in Afghanistan

Mullah Mansoor was appointed as the new leader of the Taliban in August after the death of Mullah Omar, but the Taliban Supreme Council (Shura Council) rejected the move, saying it had not been consulted on the matter.

Earlier in November, violent clashes between the Taliban’s two rival groups in southern Afghanistan resulted in the death of more than 50 fighters from both sides.

The Taliban splinter group had reportedly joined fighters from the ISIL group in Afghanistan, but the claims are denied by Abdul Manan Niazi.

As the foreign forces concluded their combat operation in December 2014, the number of Taliban attacks increased across Afghanistan.

The northern city of Kunduz briefly fell to the Taliban in late September – the biggest victory for the group in 14 years of war.

Earlier this week, a suicide bomber attacked a joint Afghan-NATO convoy near Bagram airbase near Kabul, killing six foreign soldiers and wounding three others.

READ MORE: Residents stranded as battle for Helmand intensifies

Clashes between the Taliban and the Afghan forces continue in Sangin after the district fell to the Taliban just days after the deputy governor of the Helmand province used Facebook to plead with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani for help in holding off the group.

US President Barack Obama announced in October that thousands of US troops would remain in Afghanistan past 2016, keeping the current force of 9,800 troops, amid a surge in Taliban attacks.

Additional reporting by Qais Azimy. Follow him on Twitter @QaisAje