On 10 August 2018, around 1,000 Taliban fighters stormed into the strategic province of Ghazni, killed around 550 Afghan soldiers and civilians, blocked the main roads to Ghazni, cut the communication lines, and burned down the business shops and government offices for four continuous days.
Taliban lost 720 fighters in the government’s counterattacks. The Afghan Defense Minister Tariq Shah Bahrami told reporters that “Pakistani, Chechen and Arab fighters were among the insurgents killed” in Ghazni.
However, not Bahrami nor other Afghan officials have been released any more details about foreign fighters, especially the Chechens.
So, did the Afghan officials ever provide any detail(s) about the Chechen fighters (both dead or alive) in post-2001 Afghanistan war? If not, is the presence of Chechens in post-2001 Afghanistan a “reality” or “myth”? If myth, why the Afghan officials are making the same mistakes by repetitively speaking about their presence in the country?
This piece briefly discusses the presence of Chechens in pre- and post-2001 Afghanistan.
Presence of Chechens in the 1990s
The presence of Chechen fighters in Afghanistan goes back to the 1990s when Al-Qaida and the Taliban Group wanted to create a “pure Muslim land” and implement Sharia in the society. According to Dyk, the Chechens link to Al-Qaida, Taliban and the Haqqani Network date back to 1992 when the Haqqani Network established the “Furqan” project to provide training to Caucasian jihadists, mainly Chechens and Dagestanians.
Shamil Basayev, for example, was amongst the first Chechen jihadists who traveled to Peshawar of Pakistan to join Al-Qaida. In the later years, Basayev not only brought with him dozens of other radical Chechen Muslims, he also took responsibility of the Furqan project in Pakistan.
Though Basayev left Afghanistan to coordinate the Moscow theatre attack and other merciless offensives in the north Caucuses, hundreds of Chechens flooded into Afghanistan to take part in Jihad and fight alongside the Taliban Group against the so-called Northern Alliance.
According to Garner, by the late 1990s the numbers of Chechens and Caucasians in Afghanistan reached to 2,000 fighters. Though the numbers of Chechen fighters are comparatively low than those of Uzbeks, Arabs and other foreign Islamist militants, the Chechens are thought to be physically stronger and militarily fit compared to other Al-Qaida and Taliban members.
Relations between Chechens and Taliban
The Chechens and the Taliban were attracted to ally together due to many reasons. The Taliban regime was the first and only government that officially recognised Chechnya as an independent state in 2000. The Taliban were also fascinated by the Chechens’ mercenaries, brutalities, suicide attacks and hostage-taking tactics.
Similarly, the Chechens were attracted to the Taliban for the money they received from Al-Qaida, Hizbul Mujahidin and other organisations that had actively collected funds for Chechnya’s jihad. Moreover, the Chechen embassy in Afghanistan served as “military cooperation between Chechen separatists and the Taliban” where they helped each other by providing military training and producing roadside bombs.
Presence of Chechens in post-2001 Afghanistan
According to Christian Bleuer of Afghan Analysts Network, only one “ethnic Chechen from Georgia” by the name of “Sayfullah Shishani” fought in Afghanistan. Other than Sayfullah, who later died in Syria, no other Chechen man has been seen in the country to fight alongside the Taliban Group against the Afghan and NATO forces.
After the withdrawal of the NATO forces from Afghanistan in 2014, the Taliban Group with the help of foreign fighters such as Uzbeks, Arabs, Pakistanis and Islamist militants from other parts of the world increased their operations throughout Afghanistan.
Today, the numbers of Taliban militants are estimated at 60,000, and some 8,000 of them are foreign fighters from the Middle East, Central Asia, China, Caucuses, Europe and other parts of the world. Among the foreign militants, over 1,000 brutal and notorious fighters are from the Caucasus and Central Asia, but none belong to ethnic Chechen.
In 2015 and 2016, the Taliban with the help of these foreign fighters succeeded in capturing the northern province of Kunduz and each time they took the control of the city for several days. The Afghan officials at that time announced that several foreign Jihadi groups such as Arabs, Pakistanis and Chechens fought alongside the Taliban Groups. However, no further reports came out to show more details about the Chechens and verify their presence in Kunduz, not from government offices nor from independent reporters.
On 12 August 2018, when announcing the fall of Ghazni city in the hand of Taliban, the Provincial Police Chief Farid Ahmad Mashal told that “foreign fighters, including Pakistanis and Chechens, are involved in the battle for Ghazni.” However, not Farid Mashal nor Defence Minister Bahrami or other Afghan officials has provided any more details about the Chechens.
Identifying the Chechens and distinguishing them from the Uzbeks, Tajiks and other Caucasians are very difficult for the Afghan officials. The Chechens are very similar to other foreign fighters from Central Asia and Caucuses in term of their facial appearance and language. Though the Chechens are speaking different languages, Noxchiin Mott with some dialects, their language is very unfamiliar to the Afghan forces to recognise and differentiate them. Thus, it is very highly likely that due to lack of intelligence the Afghan officials use Chechens to refer to Caucasians and other Russian-speaking foreign fighters. Therefore, the presence of Chechens in post-2001 Afghanistan war is just a divisive lore.
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