Afghan officials say ISIS and the Taliban have joined forces in at least one province

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Marco Werman: There’s a battle raging for control of the northern Afghan province of Kunduz and foreign fighters appear to be heavily involved. My BBC colleague, David Loyn, is there.


David Loyn: Well, it’s striking that this is, for the first time, a place where senior Afghan government officials are talking about the involvement Islamic State with the Taliban. The evidence is that a number of bodies of foreign fighters have been found among those killed. In fact, in the early hours of a major counteroffensive by Afghan government forces against the Taliban, who’d seized a lot of ground in recent days, a quarter of the bodies that they found were of foreign fighters and some of them were wearing black bands around their head with the white lettering across the front, indicative of Islamic State. Intriguingly. there were three Checan women fighters among those who were killed.


Werman: And so Afghan officials are saying it is clear these foreign fighters are affiliated with IS?


Loyn: Very clearly. They believe that the people that they’re fighting are not just flying the white flag of the Taliban but the black flag of Islamic State. In fact, they say they’ve been into villages where local people were told “it doesn’t matter which flag you fly, the black and the white flag are both the same.” I think what we’re seeing is a number of fighters from neighboring countries, from militant groups and Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, who are now drawn into Islamic State. One of the questions which intelligence people are scratching their heads over at the moment is whether this is commanded centrally from Syria and Iraq, from the Islamic State group there, or whether these are, as it were, “freelance franchises” flying the black flag as something that they believe will ultimately get them support and attention from Islamic State in those countries. But it certainly the same doctrine, it’s the same mandate, it’s the same ruthlessness. We’ve seen captured government soldiers who’ve had their heads cut off--beheading has not previously been seen in Afghanistan, has now become commonplace in the northeast among those soldiers and police who are unlucky enough to be captured by their enemy.


Werman: I mean, the conventional wisdom--you kind of alluded to this earlier--would have suggested that ISIS and the Taliban would be fighting each other. Do they get along?


Loyn: Well, they have a conceptual problem, because the overall leader of the Taliban, Mullah Omar, was 20 years ago declared the Ameer-ul-Momineen, the leader of all Muslims everywhere, the commander of the faithful, and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State, has declared himself the caliph, which is a contradictory political title. So, you can’t have a caliph and an ameer, as it were, in the same political space. So, that’s something that the two organizations have a conceptual problem over. But I understand that there have been Taliban emissaries who have been to try and meet Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, and they’re trying to see whether the two sides could do business in this region of South Asia. And if they did, then obviously that would make a whole new security problem for Afghanistan.


Werman: My partner at the BBC, David Loyn, speaking with us from the Afghan province of Kunduz. Thank you very much for your time.


Loyn: Thank you very much.