The Taliban claims to have captured the Registan district in the southern province of Kandahar. In a statement released on Oct. 2, the Taliban said it had routed Afghan forces in Registan, forcing them to flee to the neighboring “Shorawak district after dozens were killed and wounded.” This “led to [the] Mujahideen liberating the district center, unfurling the sublime white flag of Islam over it and bringing the entire district under their complete control.”
Afghan officials quickly denied the Taliban’s claims.
Pajhwok Afghan News reports that Afghan “authorities rejected the assertion as exaggerated,” saying that the Registan district remains under the government’s control. Afghan officials insisted that the district center was moved for “administrative reasons,” because it was difficult for people to reach it, and not because the Taliban had overrun security forces.
Whatever the truth is behind the Taliban’s disputed claims, it appears that Junood al Fida, a group that is loyal to both the Taliban and al Qaeda, has played a significant role in the fighting.
In a series of tweets on the group’s official Twitter account, Junood al Fida also claimed that the Registan district had fallen. The organization heralded it as good news for the “Commander of the faithful,” Mullah Omar, and also honored al Qaeda master Osama bin Laden.
One tweet by the group’s media arm reads: “Glad tidings O Ummah – the den of Shaykh Osamah will fall to the lions of the #Islamic_Emirates – by the will of Allah!” The accompanying hashtags are #Kandahar and #Afghanistan.
“Allahu Akbar, Mujahideen of #Junood_al_Fida have made enormous gains in the dessert [sic] of Kandahar!” another tweet reads. A third post claims: “Today is a great day for the lions of Ameerul Mu’mineen [Commander of the Faithful] Mullah Umar, the Mujahideen have attacked the enemy camps giving them severe blows.” And a fourth tweet cheers Junood al Fida’s ability “to gain much territory from the Murtad [or Apostate] army.”
Still other tweets (included at the end of this article) show a base the group claims to have assaulted, as well as scenes from the fighting.
Other online jihadists are crediting Junood al Fida with capturing the district, which may very well be an exaggeration.
The Taliban have taken control of several districts in Afghanistan during the fighting season. In July, the Taliban overran Sangin district in Helmand province. Afghan officials negotiated a peace agreement with the Taliban in August, and the district remains contested to this day. Also in July, the Taliban took control of Char Sada district in the central province of Ghor.
Baloch group that pledged allegiance to Mullah Omar calls Ayman al Zawahiri its ’emir’
In mid-July, Junood al Fida released a statement explaining its approach to waging jihad.
“We gave our bayat (oath of allegiance) to Ameerul Mu’mineen Mullah Muhammed Omar Mujahid, may God protect him, and we are his soldiers,” the statement reads, according to a translation obtained by The Long War Journal. The group described al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri as “Our Shaykh al Habeeb” [beloved leader] and its “Ameeruna” [our chief].
Junood al Fida’s hostility to the US was highlighted throughout the statement. Its members had “migrated to areas in southern Afghanistan to wage jihad against the United States and the ‘US puppets’ in Afghanistan,” the statement reads. “As for the United States’ future in Afghanistan,” Junood al Fida threatened, “it will be fire and hell and total defeat, God willing, as it was for their predecessors – the Soviets and before them, the British.”
The organization, which calls its fighters “The Desert Lions,” features anti-American propaganda on its Twitter feed. For instance, a few tweets display an image of a jihadist taking aim at the US Capitol building with a firearm while fighting in the desert.
Junood al Fida has repeatedly said that it is integrated into the Taliban’s operations in southern Afghanistan. In August, the Baloch jihadist organization released a video showing its fighters launching raids in the Shorawak district of Kandahar province. The raids were part of the Taliban’s “Operation Khayber” offensive.
In August, the group also released a eulogy for its slain leader, Abdul Hafeez, who was from the Baluchistan province of Pakistan. According to the statement, which was translated by the SITE Intelligence Group, Hafeez had waged jihad for four decades. He fought against the Soviets, the Northern Alliance, and against US, Western, and Afghan forces after 9/11. Junood al Fida described him as “a well-known commander in Zabul, Helmand & Kandahar Province of The Islamic Emirates Of Afghanistan,” the official name of the Taliban.
Junood al Fida’s photos from the recent fighting
A military base in Kandahar’s Registan district:
The wreckage after the Taliban/Junood al Fida’s attack:
A destroyed building:
The remains of an Afghan police pickup truck:
Jihadists pray in the desert after their assault: