Taliban arrest 4 Islamic State militants north of Kabul

·3-min read
A boy looks as an Afghan fighter rides in the back of a vehicle during a police patrol in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021. The Taliban are promising a return of some of their harsh punishments that made them notorious. That has many Afghans afraid, but some also say they are giving the Taliban a chance if it means greater stability and fewer corrupt officials reaching into their pockets. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The Taliban arrested four members of the rival militant Islamic State group north of the Afghan capital, their spokesman said Wednesday, and witnesses said two Taliban fighters were shot and killed in the country's east, raising the specter of a widening conflict.

Also Wednesday, a Qatari plane evacuated more than 300 people from Afghanistan, including the country's cricket team and several Afghan journalists fleeing the Taliban rule, as well as citizens from other countries. It was the sixth and largest airlift by Qatar since the U.S. and NATO pullout from Afghanistan on Aug. 30.

Thousands of Afghans were airlifted out of Afghanistan in a chaotic evacuation effort in the wake of the U.S. military withdrawal and the swift takeover of the country by the Taliban.

In Kabul, Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman, said an operation was carried out on Tuesday night by the Taliban in the surrounding province in which documents and weapons were seized from IS militants. He provided no additional details.

Two Taliban members were shot and killed and three civilians were wounded Wednesday when unknown gunmen opened fire on a Taliban patrol in a vegetable market in the eastern city of Jalalabad, two witnesses said. A hospital official later said the local health facility received two dead bodies and two wounded men. They spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

The Islamic State group did not claim the market shooting, but has carried out similar attacks before in the area. Jalalabad in particular has emerged as a flashpoint in the rivalry between the Taliban and IS, with numerous attacks taking place there since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in mid-August.

The Taliban leadership has been grappling with a growing threat from the local IS affiliate, known as the Islamic State in Khorasan. IS militants have ramped up attacks to target their rivals, including two deadly bombings in Kabul.

IS claimed it targeted a vehicle carrying Taliban members in Kunar province on Tuesday night. It said a Taliban reinforcement patrol rushed to the area to help but IS fighters clashed with them, allegedly killing and wounding “many.”

IS re-emerged in Afghanistan in 2020 after being weakened by a heavy U.S. bombing campaign in the eastern part of the country in 2019. The group claimed responsibility for Sunday's bombing at Kabul's Eid Gah Mosque which killed five civilians.

It has also claimed responsibility for the horrific Aug. 26 bombing that killed at least 169 Afghans and 13 U.S. military personnel outside the Kabul airport in the final days of the chaotic American pullout from Afghanistan.

In Qatar meanwhile, Lolwah Al Khater, assistant foreign minister and evacuation committee chief, announced the departure of the Qatari plane from Kabul. She said it was the sixth flight — and the largest so far — organized by Qatar after the U.S. pullout on Aug. 30.

The flight carried more than 300 passengers, including Afghan journalists, Afghanistan’s cricket team, as well as citizens from Japan, Belgium, Ireland, Britain, Germany, Finland, France, Italy, Sweden, Canada, and several other countries.

Once in Doha, the passengers will be taken to the compound currently hosting Afghan civilians and other evacuees for coronavirus testing. They will reman in Qatar until departing to their final destinations, Al Khater added.

“Qatar remains dedicated to Afghanistan’s future," she said. “Efforts towards more general progress in the country are ongoing as we continuously consult with our partners and assess the situation."

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Faiez reported from Istanbul. Associated Press writers Maamoun Youssef in Cairo and Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.

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