Col. Sheena Johnson & The Ants

   by Rawclyde!

Thousands of ants

Tumble across the raggedy ground

At the feet of Col. Sheena Johnson

& her faithful hubby Habibullah


The couple sit cross-legged honing arrowheads of Sufi bliss

In front of the commander’s imported Native American teepee

“I’ve never seen a horde of ants like this,” says ex-Talib Habibullah

“I wonder where they are going?”


Elder Haji Mujadooti having trudged up the mountain-ridge trail

Stands out of breath amidst the horde of ants, tries to say something

He slaps his pants frantically, falls down, rolls around spastically

Thus disrupting the peaceful scene with idiotic old-man antics


Covered head to toe with angry biting ants

He heroically stands up & despite the pain he is suffering

Says to Habibulla’s infidel wife,  “Do something, Sheena!

Our courageous Afghan soldiers are dying below!”




The commander knows Afghanistan

She knows Taliban & she knows ants too

She arises


The empress of the Afghaneeland village of Pluckame

Pulls Haji Mujadooti out of the jam in which he stands

“Darling husband, please tend to this poor wise man”

Habibullah smiles, arises & does as bidden


Barefoot, Sheena steps into the rapidly moving horde of angry ants

Not one lousy insect crawls onto one toe of the formidable goddess

She stands erect as the Rock of Gibraltar & prays to St. Joan of Arizona

Who in a distant land relays the message to heaven


And by God, Sheena’s Sufi bow materializes in her held out hand

Sufi armor crackles sparsely here & there on her outrageously perfect body

She picks up a freshly cut & carved & honed world-peace arrow

Fits it to the bow string, aims, shuts her eyes, let’s it go


The cosmic forces of the universe gather upon the arrowhead point

Thrust forward into the oblivion of every Taliban brain below

Capt’n Chuck Fiddler’s Afghaneeland Sufi Bubble

& divine revelations explode!!! 


Suddenly beyond anybody’s wildest expectation

There are no more Taliban in the tumultuous nation of Afghanistan

The insurgents have transformed into the silliest looking little ants ever seen

All carrying rifles tinier than toothpicks


Pvt. Ghani Gandhara gut-shot and breathing his last breath

Picks up one of these purple insects on the end of his thumb & smiles

The Afghan National Army defending the nation’s new democracy shall prevail

Pvt. Gandhara leaps beyond the veil… 


Text / Copyright Clyde Collins 2014


Col. Sheena Johnson at the helm of

Capt’n Chuck Fiddler’s Afghaneeland Sufi Bubble


Afghaneeland Adventure Series | Old Timer Chronicle II


Strategic Failure ~ Ignoring Child Rape


Kevin Knodell

November 10, 2015


The Afghan police commander laughed at them. But Capt. Dan Quinn and Sgt. First Class Charles Martland didn’t find anything funny about the situation.

Throughout their deployment, members of the U.S. Army Special Forces detachment under Quinn’s command became troubled by the behavior of the Afghan Local Police forces they were supposed to be mentoring. The team reported several incidents — one involving a police commander who raped a teenage girl — to their commanders and to Afghan authorities.

In each case there was either no consequences or a slap on the wrist.

But late in the deployment, a woman came to the soldiers’ base. She told them an ALP commander chained her son to a bed and raped him, then beat her. She begged the Green Berets for justice.

When Quinn and Martland confronted the ALP commander, he readily admitted to doing it and even joked about it. Furious, Quinn and Martland shoved him to the ground and allegedly beat him.

Not long after, Army brass reprimanded both soldiers and sent them home. Quinn left the Army, while Martland became an Army scuba instructor in Florida where he continued to receive high marks. He previously received two Bronze Stars for valor.

But the incident remained in his files, and the Army decided it was enough to warrant kicking Martland out through its force reduction program. He defended his actions in a January 2011 letter to the Army Human Resources Command, stating he and Quinn “felt that morally we could no longer stand by and allow our ALPs to commit atrocities.”

On Oct. 28 the Department of Defense’s Inspector General Office released an announcement that it will be investigating cases of Afghan officials abusing children, and whether American officials could have — or should have — done more to stop it.

The investigation comes after a series of allegations made headlines, as several American military personnel face discipline for either whistle blowing or taking unauthorized action against predators.

The most high profile case has been Martland’s. Nov. 1 was to be his last day on active duty, but the Army is currently reviewing his case on appeal after a media storm and pressure from congressmen, including fellow Afghanistan war veteran Rep. Duncan Hunter of California.

While the decorated special operations warrior may very well be vindicated, the case remains part of a troubling chapter of America’s longest war.

Many American officials have defended the military’s hands off approach to Afghan forces committing rape, insisting that it’s a cultural issue and a matter for Afghan law. But many of the Afghan police tasked with enforcing that law are in fact guilty of much of the abuse. And they do so while receiving American training, weapons and funds.

Several experts and special operations veterans War Is Boring spoke to argued that allowing rape isn’t merely a moral failure, it’s a strategic one that undermines America’s mission in Afghanistan — and shows a fundamental misunderstanding of Afghan culture.

A dishonorable act


Forms of pederasty involving relationships between influential men and young boys aren’t new and they’ve never been limited to central Asia. “You see this going all the way back to Greece and Rome,” explained anthropologist Thomas Barfield, an Afghan culture specialist at Boston University.

But he said war and weak rule of law have allowed it and other forms of abuse to thrive.

In Afghanistan, the practice of “bacha bazi” — meaning “boy play” — is typically associated with rich and powerful Afghan men, some of whom use it as a means to flaunt their wealth and power. One form of bacha bazi involves concerts in which teenagers and boys dance for older men who then sexually abuse them.

“You cannot try to impose American values and American norms onto the Afghan culture because they’re completely different,” Col. Steve Johnson told the Tacoma News Tribune in August. “We can report and we can encourage them. We do not have any power or the ability to use our hands to compel them to be what we see as morally better.”

But while bacha bazi has existed in Afghanistan for generations, Barfield argues that calling it a “cultural norm” is misleading. He said that while powerful men may take part, it’s not something that Afghan culture celebrates.

“If you’re talking to regular people they wouldn’t find it acceptable,” he said. “It violates Islamic law and cultural norms.”

Many special operations veterans who’ve spent time living among Afghans have come to the same conclusion. “When you get to the point where you have to admit that this is something ‘powerful men’ do, you’re automatically admitting this isn’t normal,” said one veteran.

Barfield recalled a murder he learned about during one of his visits as a researcher in Afghanistan. Afghans told him about how an enraged man had killed his brother after learning he was participating in bacha bazi. “The story of these two brothers was considered a family tragedy,” he said. “Afghans have a very strong conception of honor and this is a stain on that honor.”

Barfield said that while some elites will take part in or watch these acts, most would deny taking part. “It’s something people would rarely admit to,” Barfield explained. “It’s actually used as a pretty common insult, to accuse powerful people of bacha bazi.”

Bacha bazi comes in various forms. During his field research, Barfield interviewed what he called “professional bachas,” typically young adults and teenagers who make a living in a seedy underworld often discussed in whispers.

“If you want to go to see a dancing boy concert they’re usually held out in the middle of nowhere,” Barfield explained.

“But in this case what we’re actually talking about is kidnapping,” Barfield said of the scandal that’s rocked the Pentagon.

Decades of war in Afghanistan have given rise to a much more predatory class of pederasts. Barfield explained that for some powerful Afghans, bacha bazi can be a way of demonstrating their might and asserting that rules don’t apply to them.

“[These people are often] warlords and commanders, so these are people who are used to making their own rules,” he said.

Rape and other crimes were hallmarks of both the Soviet occupation of the 1980s and subsequent Afghan Civil War of the 1990s. When the Taliban seized power, its puritanical worldview demanded an end to vices. One of the group’s top priorities was putting an end to bacha bazi. They executed many of the worst offenders, sometimes publicly.

One Special Forces veteran explained in a conversation with War Is Boring that many Taliban fighters were also once raped by older men, and that for some it was huge reason why they joined the movement. “When the Taliban came to power they put a stop to this shit,” he said.

The militants considered it part of their campaign against immorality, particularly a crackdown on gays and lesbians. However, men who partake in bacha bazi don’t typically consider themselves gay. “Most of these men would consider themselves straight,” Barfield explained.

But the Taliban’s moral campaign soon extended much further. The Taliban banned music, women’s education, kite flying, most sports and destroyed anything the group deemed “un-Islamic.” The goodwill the Taliban earned among Afghans from its crackdown on pedophiles and rapists quickly faded as the group’s repressive puritanical rule took shape.

Many welcomed American forces as they ousted the Taliban after 9/11. Schools reopened and kites returned to the skies.

But American troops and operatives often had to work closely with a motley collection of Northern Alliance fighters, Pashtun rebels and other armed groups. The Americans soon learned that not all were as trustworthy as others. And some of them had dark pasts that would soon come to shape Afghanistan’s future.

A symptom of corruption


Afghan children have long been central to the narrative of the war in Afghanistan. When the Taliban was ousted in 2001, American officials touted the return of Afghan children to schools. Educating the next generation was a major emphasis — the children of today will be the leaders of Afghanistan tomorrow.

But with new opportunities came the return of old problems. Former warlords became military commanders, police officers and politicians. “It reflects that the Americans didn’t know who they were dealing with,” Barfield explained. “They unwittingly allowed some of these bad actors to regain power.”

Barfield said that provincial politicians and warlords would often exaggerate their ties to the Americans and present themselves as stronger than they actually were.

“They’d say ‘do as I say or I’ll send the Americans to burn down your village,’” Barfield explained. “The Afghans didn’t necessarily have the information to know that they were lying … the Americans of course had no idea.”

Corruption has been endemic in the new Afghanistan with aid money constantly going missing or wasted on lavish projects. The quality of Afghan security forces has been inconsistent. Soldiers and police officers often do not receive regular paychecks and must depend on shoddy equipment, a consequence of corruption. There’s also problems with abuse and misconduct.

Some Afghan troops and police have been known to engage in extortion, smuggling and kidnapping. In many cases that’s included the kidnapping and sexual abuse of children — sometimes even on U.S. bases. And that was far from a secret before Martland’s case blew up.

In 2012, a 17-year-old Afghan boy kept on a U.S. Marine base by police commander Sarwan Jan got a hold of a weapon and killed three Marines in the base gym. Prior to the killings, junior Marines — including some of those killed — had expressed concerns about Jan. The commander had a long history of corruption and child abuse.

A year later Vice documentary This Is What Winning Looks Like portrayed U.S. Marines candidly telling filmmaker Ben Anderson that the Afghan police they work with regularly kidnap and rape children — and frequently murder them.

The Marines expressed frustration that nobody seemed to take the problem seriously despite their repeated reports.

Johnson, who was a battalion commander with the 1st Special Forces Group at the time Martland and Quinn beat the Afghan policeman, has defended the decision to discipline the two. Johnson asserted the soldiers beat the Afghan commander nearly to death.

However, other Afghans — including a well regarded interpreter — allegedly told officials the injuries were minor and that the commander was walking around the next day.

It’s hard to know exactly what happened. The case was never put through the military criminal justice system and the Afghan police commander later died in a Taliban ambush.

The crux of the arguments against Martland and Quinn is that they acted rashly and potentially could have damaged relations with the Afghans cops — and possibly drive them to join the militants.

One former Green Beret told War Is Boring that the actions of the Afghan police would reflect directly on the advisers. After all, the ALP is trained, paid and equipped by the Americans. According to the veteran, the team had to show the Afghan villagers that they too cared about honor, otherwise villagers might start supporting the Taliban.

“When [Martland] beat the shit out of that police commander, that’s actually something a lot of Afghans would really respect,” Barfield said. “That’s a form of justice that Afghans understand very well.”

Playing by the rules


“I think this really reflects the state of law and order in Afghanistan as a whole right now,” Barfield said. “After 30 years of war, it’s allowed these sorts of bad actors to thrive.”

In the years since Martland and Quinn left Afghanistan, the military has put more and more emphasis on the ALP. These militia-turned-police played a huge role in the security of Kunduz … as well as its recent fall to Taliban militants.

These militias were responsible for protecting the people of Kunduz and maintaining order. But were also notorious for extortion, theft, assault and of course … bacha bazi. The Taliban took advantage of resentment among the locals to reestablish a foothold in the area before delivering a humiliating blow to Afghan forces this summer.

During an interview with War Is Boring about his book The Tigers And The Taliban in 2013, Danish army veteran Lars Ulslev Johannesen explained how corruption and instability drove many Afghans to sympathize with the militants, even those who disliked their repressive ideology.

“Predictability is important,” Johannesen said. “They know the Taliban rules, and prefer them even though they do not like them, because they know what they need to do in order to survive.”

Since the Taliban fell, there have indeed been strides in education — and Afghan artists and activists have far more freedom than they’ve known in decades. But when police kidnap and rape the children with impunity, it fundamentally undermines the rule of law and the legitimacy of Afghanistan’s fledgling government.

For many of the soldiers who fought there, despite the battles they won, corruption and sexual abuse undermines America’s purpose and reason for being in the country. “We’re not being outfought,” one veteran bitterly remarked during research for this story. “We’re being outgoverned.”



Terror Probe Points At Pakistan


Hollie McKay

December 07, 2015


The investigation into the jihadist couple who massacred 14 people in San Bernardino last week is pointing to Pakistan as the likely source of the pair’s radicalization, a development that threatens to expose once again the tenuous relations between the U.S. and the country accused of once harboring Al Qaeda founder and 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden.

Investigators are focusing on Tashfeen Malik, who married Syed Rizwan Farook after meeting him online and coming to the U.S. on a fiancee visa, and are particularly interested in a period from roughly 2007 to 2014 that she spent in her native Pakistan. It is during that time when she may have become radicalized, adopting the extremist ideology that she may have spread to her American-born husband. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said that investigators have interviewed more than 300 people and are working with Pakistan and other foreign governments as part of the far-reaching probe. Pakistan’s interior minister also announced the country had launched its own investigation.

Despite being allies in the war on terror, the relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan has been plagued by mistrust, and the current probe could expose further cracks in cooperation. Osama bin Laden is believed to have lived for years in his Abbottabad compound, possibly with the knowledge of government authorities, prior to the May 2011 Navy SEAL raid in which he was killed. Now, the U.S. is believed to be putting heavy pressure on Pakistan to cooperate on its end of the investigation into the deadliest terror attack on American soil since 9/11.

“It’s time that Pakistan matures up and accepts some responsibility,” a source with knowledge of discussions between U.S. and Pakistani officials told “At this stage, Tashfeen’s training is all leading back to Pakistan.”

Although Malik spent much of her youth in Saudi Arabia, where her father was an engineer, she lived after 2007 in her native Pakistan, where she also resided during the time she met Farook online. Authorities in the U.S. and Pakistan are probing her ties to an extremist and influential imam in Islamabad to try to understand the roots of her radicalization.

A newly surfaced photo, first obtained by ABC News and showing Tashfeen Malik and Syed Rizwan Farook going through customs at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, underscored the international  undertone of the probe into events proceeding Wednesday’s terrorist attack. The photo is believed to show the pair arriving from Saudi Arabia in 2014.

Malik, 29, was born to a wealthy family in Pakistan’s southern Punjab province, moved to Saudi Arabia as a child and returned to Pakistan to study pharmacology in 2007. Classmates of Malik at Bahauddin Zakariya University told the Los Angeles Times that while Malik was enrolled at the school, she also studied at Al Huda, a chain of religious institutes affiliated with ties to North America.

“She used to go to attend sessions in Al Huda almost every day,” one of Malik’s former classmates told the Times.

While Pakistan has pledged to work with the U.S., there are signs the government is clamping down on the media’s effort to get answers. On Monday, Pakistani police barred local and international media from entering the pharmacy department where Malik studied. Police inspector Muhammad Ali said the reporters did not have valid documents to work in the city. The university administration deployed extra private security guards outside the facility and after an argument with some reporters, university security officials called in the police. The police escorted the two journalists out of the campus.

There also have been reports Malik may have worshiped at Islamabad’s infamous “Red Mosque.”

The mosque’s controversial cleric Maulana Abdul Aziz, who oversees a web of 27 seminaries in Malik’s native Punjab province, has been a lightning rod for years, and even stoked outrage in Pakistan last year when he refused to denounce the Peshawar school attack that left 148 people dead, including 100 children, referring to it as “an understandable response” to the government expedition against Taliban-aligned groups.

But in a message to, a representative for the Red Mosque vehemently denied any link to Malik, calling implications otherwise “baseless” and “propaganda” to harm their reputation.

“Lal Masjid chief cleric Maulana Abdul Aziz has condemned the San Bernardino attack saying, ‘Islam does not permit attacks on innocent people,’” the representative stated.

A source with knowledge of discussions between U.S. and Pakistani officials said the U.S. is putting renewed pressure on Pakistan to expose and eradicate the radical elements that have operated largely unimpeded there. In addition to the questions surrounding Bin Laden’s post-9/11 movements in Pakistan, the nation is still imprisoning Dr. Shakeel Afridi, the physician who helped the CIA verify that Bin Laden was hiding in plain sight, living near a military facility.

“Pakistan is activating all its consulates trying to determine if other Tashfeens are out there,” the insider, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told “The Pakistan Army has been working to halt the terrorist money flow, but this is all much bigger than what we see on the surface.”

In the U.S., authorities are focused on who may have helped the couple — who lived on Farook’s $51,000-per-year salary as a county restaurant inspector — assemble an arsenal that included handguns, rifles, thousands of rounds of ammunition and extensive bomb-making supplies and equipment. One man who reportedly legally purchased the two assault rifles the pair used to shoot Farook’s co-workers at the Inland Regional Center has been identified, but is not believed to have knowingly participated in the terror plot.

So far, federal investigators believe the plot was inspired, but not directed, by foreign terrorist organizations. President Obama said in a Sunday evening address that no evidence pointed to the two being part of a “broader conspiracy here at home.”

It is doubtful the couple could have financed their terror activity on Farook’s salary, said House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas. He told Fox News authorities are interested in determining whether the couple had financial help from terrorists either in the U.S. or overseas. The limited salary of a county employee has aroused suspicion that the cache of weapons found in the couple’s Redlands apartment — including pipe bombs and ammunition — may have been purchased with funds from a foreign source, McCaul said.

“I believe on his salary, he was not able to buy this on his own,” McCaul said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Retired FBI Special Agent, Robert Chacon, said the relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan is complex, especially when it comes to fighting terrorism.

“The U.S.-Pakistan relationship has been a tale of mistrust and facades for a long time,” Chacon told “The outward, public relationship between the governments does not always match the covert working relationships between the U.S. intelligence community and the Pakistani intel agencies.”

Radical Islamist groups operate almost as autonomous mini-governments in Pakistan, said Ryan Mauro, a national security analyst at Clarion Project, a New York-based non-profit that monitors the worldwide terror threat.

“If the U.S. discovers that she and her social circle were involved with this radical infrastructure, Pakistan will try to absolve itself of responsibility by saying that the extremists it harbors condemn 9/11 and ISIS,” Mauro predicted. “We have to respond by telling Pakistan that that it isn’t good enough. You are not an ally if you condemn terrorism but promote the ideologies that causes terrorism.

“Last night, President Obama said that the Muslim world’s obligation doesn’t stop with condemning ISIS-type violence; that Muslims must go further and reject the interpretations that conflict with modern values,” Mauro added. “He’s right, and that’s why we should make no distinction between those who sponsor organized terrorist groups and those who sponsor the ideology these groups are founded upon.”



Islamic State on Af-Pak Border


by Casey Garret Johnson and Sanaullah Tassal

Foreign Policy via Fractured Atlas

November 26, 2015


JALALABAD — When the security situation in Nangarhar deteriorated sharply in early 2014, no one in this Afghan border province had ever heard of the so-called Islamic State (IS). A year and a half later, the black and white banners of IS are stenciled on the walls of the largest state-run university, and a former Guantánamo Bay detainee — and Nangarhar native — has appointed himself emir of IS’ Khorosan regional group. Some of the loudest IS supporters in this province, known as one of the most educated in all of Afghanistan, are the young and intelligent aspiring engineers and journalists. In August, 10 tribal leaders were bound and blindfolded by IS, who accused them of providing support to the Taliban. They were led past IS flags and masked gunmen, and forced to kneel atop a string of improvised explosive devices. The video of their execution went viral.

Still, analysts hesitate to slap the IS label on the new militancy emerging in Nangarhar, as much for the lack of clear evidence of direct operational support from Raqqa as for the fear of creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. Yet, by the summer of 2015, a group looking, sounding, and acting a lot like IS was active in at least seven of Nangarhar’s 21 districts, according to residents and Afghan intelligence officials Foreign Policy spoke to. The situation grew so alarming that in July and August, fighters from around the country were summoned to Nangarhar to combat IS. These were not U.S.-funded and trained Afghanistan National Army soldiers sent by Kabul. They were Taliban insurgents, many dispatched from the group’s southern strongholds, rushing into a province in which they felt they had as much to lose as the government.

Foreign Policy interviewed 16 Nangarharis in the provincial capital of Jalalabad and surrounding districts, including fearful tribal elders, Taliban militants, some of the loudest young IS advocates, and a number of Salafi preachers who find themselves under increasing pressure to provide ideological and practical support to IS, which most here know by its Arabic acronym, Daesh. These interviews paint a picture of a militant organization that, whatever its operational ties to Raqqa, is employing the same mixture of terror, pragmatism, and ideology in Afghanistan that has been well-documented in Iraq and Syria. But they also describe a growing backlash amongst initially welcoming segments of the community who now see IS as a Pakistani proxy with no other goal but to destabilize Afghanistan. Rather than uniting the multitude of tribes and interests around the goal of a caliphate, IS has become entangled in regional and local feuding, much as the U.S.-led coalition has over the past decade.


Nangarhar has had its share of insurgency-linked security problems since 2001, but the Taliban has never been particularly strong in this part of eastern Afghanistan. Few of the new (or old) guard Taliban leaders hail from the east. While locals in this region have nominally fought for the Taliban for years, this is often borne of necessity and pragmatism.

For instance, members of insurgent groups dating back to the anti-Soviet jihad who have fought under the Afghan Taliban banner since 2001, such as Hizb-e Islami, are now tactically aligned with IS, according to residents in the province. This already-fractured insurgent landscape makes Nangarhar, more than, say, Kandahar, a place where IS could gain a foothold without much competition. Kandahar and other regions where the Taliban had more ideological support from the population will prove harder for IS to infiltrate. Since Taliban supporters in Nangarhar were never fully included in Taliban leadership positions, it makes them more prone to converting to the cause of the Islamic State.

In October, Franz-Michael Mellbin, the European Union’s special representative for Afghanistan, told the Atlantic Council that IS would “feed on [public] disenchantment with the government” of Afghanistan, a traditional counterinsurgency theory of recruitment often used to explain the Taliban’s rise. Instead, IS feeds off disenchantment within and between the various insurgent movements on both sides of the border. IS pursued this recruitment and consolidation tactic in Syria, where the Assad regime has been of secondary concern to co-opting and eliminating competing rebel factions. To pull supporters in its direction in Afghanistan, IS has thus far focused the bulk of its propaganda on labeling the Taliban as “un-Islamic.”

In Nangarhar, the IS strategy extends beyond propaganda and co-option. In addition to the 10 tribal elders it blew up in August, it has conducted a targeted assassination campaign against its competition. 21 alleged Taliban supporters have been beheaded in Kot district alone, with reports of beheadings in at least five other districts throughout the province, according to one Afghan journalist who, like the rest of those interviewed, was fearful of providing his name.

Following the confirmation of Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar’s death in late summer 2015, there was concern that IS would exploit his demise to recruit disenfranchised Taliban field commanders in the same way it preyed upon a fracturing rebel landscape in Syria from 2013 to 2014. In attracting opportunistic former Afghan Taliban members, IS has learned lessons from its strategy in Pakistan. By exploiting divisions within the Pakistani Taliban stemming from the death of that group’s leader, Hakimullah Mehsud, in a November 2013 drone strike, IS successfully recruited disgruntled fighters like the Pakistani Hafiz Saeed, a former Tehrik-e Taliban commander. Though it has been reported that Saeed was killed in an airstrike in July, a number of those interviewed claimed that he was indeed alive as of early November. Regardless of Saeed’s fate, IS uses the narrative of successfully recruiting members from other organizations to bolster its image of regional strength and domination.

Yet, Pakistani militants have always had trouble operating on Afghan soil. Though they have been given sanctuary by communities along the border, this has usually come with the caveat that they not stray too far inland. The bulk of those claiming to be IS now are disgruntled field commanders who have been fighting under the Afghan Taliban banner for years. Their alignment is driven more by necessity than ideology.

By September, 2015, Afghan and Pakistani factions had arisen within IS — not surprising, given the decades of open hostility between their two nations, particularly along the border. In mid-October, Rahim Muslimdost, the former Guantánamo Bay detainee who blames Pakistan for handing him over to U.S. forces, publicly broke with Hafiz Saeed’s IS faction, essentially saying that Saeed needed to return to Pakistan where he belonged. Muslimdost charged that Pakistani intelligence had hijacked IS in Afghanistan, another ploy in a long line of moves to keep its neighbor weak. In the same breath, Muslimdost re-affirmed his support to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. IS has not publicly weighed in on the dispute.

Some of those Foreign Policy interviewed speculated that IS had targeted Nangarhar precisely because of its position as a border province, along with the opportunity to symbolically erase the Af-Pak border — the contentious Durand Line — as they had done to great symbolic effect along the Iraq-Syria border. As of now, however, the caliphate is bogged down in the same Af-Pak nation-state border politics and proxy fighting that has plagued everyone from the Taliban, to occupying countries, to international aid agencies for years.

Ideology and Terror

Beginning in mid-June, IS began disseminating night letters: intimidating messages pinned on doors or delivered to homes under the cover of darkness. This IS tactic focuses mainly on religious leaders with large congregations based in Jalalalabad, as well as in neighboring Kunar province directly to the north. The majority of these imams and madrassa teachers are Salafi, a subset of Sunnis that ascribe to a fundamentalist view of Islam. Salafis advocate a strict adherence to Islamic doctrine and practice as it existed during the time of the Prophet Mohammed in the seventh century.

The vast majority of Salafis do not support IS or condone violence. After the Arab Spring in Egypt, for instance, Salafi political groups even participated in contemporary national politics. Although IS has recruited former Taliban fighters, the majority of these efforts have focused on the broader public. In fact, those being courted and coerced by IS in eastern Afghanistan are predominately individuals, like Salafis, that have not participated in the Taliban’s anti-government insurgency — principally because they found the Taliban’s accommodation of local traditions like shrine worship and tribal legal codes to be un-Islamic.

Much of the Islamic State’s millenarian ideology borrows heavily from Salafism, and the terror organization has sought the support of Salafi leaders around the world to provide religious cover for its violent actions. Those we spoke with in Nangarhar agreed this tactic partly explained the strength of IS in their province.

A well known Islamic scholar and professor at Nanagarhar University put it bluntly: IS “is in Nangarhar because there are more Salafis here than in other places [in Afghanistan], and these people are frustrated with the security situation and the government, but they also don’t believe in the Taliban.”

Among those well-known Salafis to have joined IS was Sheikh Jalaluddin, an Islamic judge from neighboring Kunar who had long opposed the Taliban and joined IS along with five other local fighters over the summer. He was subsequently killed in a U.S. airstrike in Nangarhar’s Achin district in mid-October, according to several religious leaders and journalists from the area.

Willing support for IS seems to be the exception and not the rule. Another prominent imam and madrassa teacher in Jalalabad recounted being approached by an IS member. He was given the choice to either send his 40 students to IS recruiters for indoctrination or be killed. The students are now with IS. Whether they are on the front lines or engaged in some form of propaganda or recruitment is unclear.

Others Foreign Policy spoke with noted that the IS campaign in Afghanistan targeted not just the Salafis. “They are really targeting the urban areas. They want the educated people to support them — the university students and professors and journalists and not just the religious leaders. This is something that the Taliban never put a lot of effort into,” one official in the Nangarhar provincial governor’s office said.


As of late October, IS was on the defensive in a number of Nangarhari districts where it had been ascendant only months before. Public opinion began shifting in September when the IS recruitment strategy began transitioning from outreach and indoctrination to terror. The growing perception that Pakistani intelligence had infiltrated IS did not help their image either. “A few months ago we felt like [IS] was a local force that could stand up to the Taliban. Now we see that they are under the control of Pakistan and only concerned with creating instability here,” one resident of Bati Kot district said. While this affiliation remains unproven, suspicion continues to grow.

This shift in opinion has forced some strange alliances. Taliban commanders have been seen at anti-IS coordination meetings between the government and local leaders. In September, Afghan government forces in Kot district fought side by side with locals and the Taliban. In other districts, the Taliban have signed security agreements with individual tribes in an attempt to create anti-IS zones, but further fracturing communal relations along tribal lines.

The Ghani government has reacted by taking off the gloves, appointing former anti-Soviet commanders to governorships in several Nangarhar districts. These officials, locals report, have expanded power to lead offensive military operations. One of these new governors is Mohammad Ghalib. A career mujahedeen, Ghalib fought both the Soviets and the Taliban for decades. He was rewarded with command over his tribal territory in Nangarhar after the Taliban fled in 2001. In 2003, he was picked up by U.S. Special Forces on allegations of storing improvised explosive devices for the Taliban, and detained at Guantánamo Bay until 2007. This man is now one of those leading the fight against IS forces in eastern Afghanistan, territory still nominally under the control of Ghalib’s fellow Gitmo detainee Rahim Muslimdost.

The Ghani government continues to point the finger across the border at Pakistan first and foremost, advancing the idea that IS is composed of and controlled by foreign fighters. Though this strategy may have short-term gains — for all its divisions, Afghans cling strongly to a sense of nationalism, and banding together to fight outsiders is a time-honored tradition — it threatens to exacerbate the cross-border political issues that will continue to undermine security in the long term.

Then again: at least the broke and beleaguered Afghan government is advancing a strategy against IS, something that cannot be said for the rest of the world’s powers combined.