Afghanistan: a ground zero of insurgency

Afghanistan has the highest concentration of terrorist groups compared to anywhere else in the world.” Recently, the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his Security and Defence departments named 20 regional and international terrorist groups which use Afghanistan and Pakistan as their bases and recruitment centres to support and organise their operations.

In addition to Taliban, from the early-2015, Daesh (IS Khorosan) has also been heavily involved in mass killing and targeting of Afghan Shia minorities, kidnapping and killing of international aid workers, beheading and killing of Afghan soldiers, and burning down historical places and sacred shrines in east, north and southern provinces of Afghanistan.

According to the Afghan National Security Advisor Hanif Atmar, Daesh Khorosan aims “to unify the whole region into one province under the name of Khurasan Caliphate.”. According to Atmar, Taliban and Daesh together with East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), which is trying to “enter into China through northern parts of Afghanistan”; Ansarullah Group which “wants to enter Tajikistan”; the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) which tries to “enter Uzbekistan and then Russia”; and Lashkar e Tayyiba (LeT) which wants to “enter Kashmir through northeastern areas of Afghanistan” are continuously threatening the security of Afghanistan and the whole region.

The Haqqani Network is another ruthless terrorist group which has been in war against the Afghan Government for over 40 years. Headquartered in Waziristan of Pakistan with a strength of 4,000 to 15,000 fighters from Arab countries, Pakistanis, Afghans, Chechen and other Al-Qaeda recruits, the Haqqani Network carries out the most brutal attacks targeting high-ranked officials, Afghan and the NATO troops, foreign offices and foreign aid workers, and supplies recruits and materials for other insurgent groups in Afghanistan. The truck bomb explosion in May 2017 near the German Embassy, killing over 150 and injuring 413 people, is one of the many examples of terrorist attacks carried out by the Haqqani Network across Afghanistan.

While the Afghan Government named only 20 terrorist groups, the real numbers of terrorist operating in Afghanistan are close to 30 groups. Perhaps the Ghani Administration is in a peace dialogue with some of them, or some of the group are not sanctioned by the US-UN, or there is any other behind the curtain reason that President Ghani has dropped their names from the list. For example, Hekmatyar’s Hezb-e Islami group is removed from the list because he had signed a peace deal with President Ghani in 2017.

List of 22 active terrorist groups in Afghanistan

No. Group/Organisation name Founding Leader Year Found Country of origin & Centre Strengths
1 Tahreek-e Taliban Afghanistan (TTA) Mullah Mohammad Omar 1994 Kandahar, Afghanistan* 35,000 – 50,000
2 Daesh Khorosan (ISKP) Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi 2014 FATA, Pakistan 3,400
3 Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) Baitullah Mehsud 2007 FATA, Pakistan 15,000
4 Jamaatud Dawa al Quran wa Sunnah Mualvi Jamilur Rahman/Haji Hayatullah 1985 Kunar, Afghanistan
5 Al-Qaida Osama Bin Laden 1988 Pakistan 2,000
6 Lashkar-e-Taiba Hafiz Mohammad Saeed & Zafar Iqbal 1990 Kunar, Afghanistan 3,000
7 Lashkar-i-Jhangvi Ishaq Malik 1996/ Pakistan 2000
8 Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) Tohir Abduhalilovich Yoldashev &  Juma Namangani 1998 Fergana Valley, Uzbekistan 500 – 1,000
9 Hizbul Mujahidin Mohammad Hassan Dar 1979 Kashmir, Pakistan
10 Jamaatul Ahrar Abdul Wali (aka Omar Khalid Khurasani) 2014 FATA, Pakistan 600
11 Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami (slamic Jihad Movement) Fazal Rahman Khalil and Qari Safiullah Akhtar 1984 Pakistan 700
12 Jaish-e-Mohammed Masood Azhar 2000 Pakistan 1,000
13 The Tariq Gidar Group (TGG) Umar Narai (aka Khalifa Umar Mansour or Umar Adinzai) 2009 Pakistan
14 Jundullah (People’s Resistance Movement of Iran (PRMI) Abdolmalek Rigi 2003 Iran 2,000
15 East Turkestan Islamic Party (ETIP) Zeydin Yusup (aka Zeydin Kari) Or Hasan 1989 Xinjiang, China
16 Lashkar Islam (Army of Islam) Munir Shakir 2004 FATA, Pakistan 500
17 Mujahidin Al-badar Arfeen Bhai 1998 Kashmir, Pakistan 200
18 Sipah-e Sahaba (Guardians of the Prophet’s Companions) (now Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat) Haq Nawaz Jhangvi 1985 Punjab, Pakistan 3,000 – 100,000
19 Jamaat Ansarullah Tajikistan Amriddin Tabaraov (aka Domullo Amriddin) 1990 Pakistan 100
20 Harkat-ul-Mujahideen Fazal Rahman Khalil 1985 Pakistan 500
21 Islamic Jihad Union Nadzhmiddin Kamoldinovich Jalolov (a.k.a. Abu Yahya), Muhammad Fatih (a.k.a. Commander Ahmad), and Suhayl Fatilloevich Buranov (a.k.a. Mansur Suhail / a.k.a. Abu Huzaifa.) and Kh. Ismoilov and Ahmad Bekmirzayev 2002 Waziristan, Pakistan
22 The Haqqani Network Jalaluddin Haqqani 1970 Pakistan/Afghanistan border 2,000 – 15,000

In addition to the above list, Taliban group of Mullah Nazir, Al-Qaeda in South Asia, the Salafi organisations, Jonud-e Khurasan, Amr-e Ba Maroof and Momin group and Harkatul Ansar are also operating in Afghanistan or has a link to Afghanistan insurgency. If the Chechens and other terrorist groups from the Middle East, South Asia and other parts of the world are included, the list will increase to 30 insurgent groups who are directly or indirectly involved in Afghanistan insurgency.

According to CIGAR’s 2018 report, these terrorist groups have control/influence over 13 percent of Afghanistan districts, equalling to 12 percent of Afghanistan total populations.

Source: CIGAR quarterly report to the United States Congress, January 28, 2018

With the coming of warmer seasons of spring and summer, they most certainly increase their operations to gain more controls and target strategic areas. However, the US has pledged additional US$674.3 million for defence in 2018 and the Afghan forces are preparing themselves to gain control over 80 percent of Afghanistan districts by 2020.

In February 2018, President Ghani offered a ceasefire, prisoner release and recognition of the Taliban as a legitimate political party to encourage the Group in peace talks, however, the Taliban did not show any response and the group has been continuing its fights in Afghanistan.


Deedar Raheem-Khudaidad is the editor of 

 Reference list

Bahrom, Nadin. “Tajik Jamaat Ansarullah Terrorists Step up Activity in Afghanistan.” Caravanserai,

CIGAR. “Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (Cigar): Quarterly Report to the United States Congress.” Arlington, VA: Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (CIGAR): Department of Defence, 2018.

Dressler, Jeffrey A. “The Haqqani Network: From Pakistan to Afghanistan.” Washington, DC: Institute for the Study of war, 2010.

Haqqani Network. 2018, Stanford University: Stanford, California.

Harkat-ul-Jihadi al-Islami [Internet]. Stanford University. 2016 [cited 2018]. Available from:

Hearing to receive testimony on the situation in Afghanistan, in Committee on Armed Services: United States Senate. 2017, Alderson Court Reporting: Washington, D.C.

Jaish-e-Mohammad [Internet]. Stanford University. 2015 [cited 2018]. Available from:

Loyn, D. Islamic State ‘recruiting Afghan fighters’. 2015 [cited 2018 May 22, 2018]; Available from:

Mashal, M., F. Abed, and J. Sukhanyar. Deadly Bombing in Kabul Is One of the Afghan War’s Worst Strikes. 2017. New York Times  [cited 2018 May 20]; Available from:

Rebel Groups in Afghanistan: A Run-Through. Pajhwok Afghanistan. Available from:

Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan [Internet]. Stanford University. 2012 [cited 2018]. Available from:

Soadat, S. Daesh Poses Serious Threat to Afghanistan: Atmar. 2015  [cited 2018 May 22]; Available from:

Xu, Beina, Holly Fletcher, and Jayshree Bajoria. “The East Turkestan Islamic Movement (Etim).” Council on Foreign Relations. Available from:



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