As a Taliban commander, he fought for years against the former Afghan government. With his hardline movement back in power, Mullah Neda Mohammad pledges to continue fighting rival jihadists, the ISIS group.
After the Taliban victory in August, Mohammad took over as governor of Nangarhar province, home to the stronghold of the ISIS Afghanistan-Pakistan chapter.
“We are looking for individuals who are hiding,” Mohammad told AFP, alleging that his forces have arrested 70 to 80 ISIS members since taking control of the provincial capital of Jalalabad from Nangarhar, the country’s fifth largest city. have taken over.
ISIS has been responsible for some of the deadliest attacks in Afghanistan in recent years, killing civilians in mosques, shrines, public squares and even hospitals.
The group claimed responsibility for a devastating suicide attack at Kabul airport on August 26 that killed more than 100 Afghans and 13 US soldiers.
It was the deadliest attack on US troops in Afghanistan since 2011.
After the blast, the US military said it had carried out a drone strike on an ISIS “planner” in Nangarhar province.
Still, Mohammad says he does not believe ISIS poses a major threat as it does in Iraq and Syria.
“Here they have made many victims in northern and eastern Afghanistan,” he told AFP in Jalalabad, at the governor’s palace, now decorated with Taliban flags.
With the Taliban in power, “there will be no reason for (ISIS) to be here,” he said. “We do not view ISIS as a threat.”
Bloody Power Struggle
While both ISIS and the Taliban are hardline Sunni Islamist terrorists, they differed on the details of religion and strategy, both claiming to be the true standard-bearers of jihad.
That battle has led to bloody battles between the two.
An ISIS commentary published after the fall of Kabul accused the Taliban of betraying jihadists with the US Withdrawal Agreement, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors terrorist communications.
Latest estimates of ISIS’ strength range from 500 active fighters to as many as several thousand, according to a UN report in July.
However, a series of prison breaks by the Taliban during their summer offensive also led to the release of many ISIS terrorists.
The Taliban came to power at dizzying speed, and Mohammad described how he and his fighters were able to march into Jalalabad without firing a shot.
There had been heavy fighting against former government forces in nearby Sherzad when they advanced, but after the Taliban took over the village, they were given a message of surrender.
The former leaders of Jalalabad “sent a representative who told us they no longer wanted to fight and hand over the local government peacefully,” Mohammad said.
“We built our organization here,” he said. “We have appointed the police chief, the intelligence chief and the governor – which was given to me.”
Drawn by memories
After two decades of battling an insurgency, the Taliban must quickly transform into a government force capable of handling a humanitarian crisis and a war-ravaged economy.
It has made commanders feel more comfortable organizing ambushes that now control cities with hundreds of thousands of people.
Like most in Afghanistan, the people of Nangarhar are scarred by memories of the brutal Taliban government in the 1990s, which was notorious for stoning deaths, girls being expelled from school and women coming into contact with men.
The province’s new governor has spoken some reassuring words, but many people remain skeptical about the Taliban’s promise of a different kind of rule.
“We will protect their rights and we will not allow criminals to harm the people of Afghanistan, especially the people of Nangarhar,” Mohammad said.
Despite the pledges, an aid worker in Jalalabad said on condition of anonymity that “many people in the city are unhappy and are afraid of freedom of expression”.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NewsMadura staff and has been published from a syndicated feed.)