Maps – Imom al-Bukhoriy Katibasi operations in Uzbek-majority province of Afghanistan

I love maps. So here are some showing the locations of some operations carried out by the Taliban-aligned Uzbek group Imom al-Bukhoriy Katibasi in Uzbek-majority areas in northwestern Afghanistan since August 2017. Imom al-Bukhoriy Katibasi is an Uzbek jamaat with a presence in both Syria and northwestern Afghanistan. I’ve written a far more detailed piece about them for Jane’s with some info from sources close to the group. But I wanted to post some brief notes and some maps here. The group is led in Syria by amir Abu Yusuf Muhojir, selected after the group’s previous amir, Sheikh Salakhuddin al-Uzbeki, was shot dead in Idlib province by a pro-IS media activist (who has since, I believe, been killed — sources say that Sheikh Salakhuddin’s wife was allowed to kill him in order to enact revenge). Anyway, the Syria operations are shown here.

In Syria, as I mentioned in this earlier post, the group fights alongside Ahrar al-Sham in a battlefield coalition. It has bay’ah to the Taliban; in Afghanistan, the group fights alongside the Taliban though it remains a discrete jamaat operating out of Faryab province, which has an Uzbek majority population. Interestingly enough, some IBK fighters in Syria were previously in Afghanistan, and it is possible that at least some if not all of these, like their “brothers” in Afghanistan, are ethnic Uzbeks from this region rather than from Uzbekistan or Kyrgyzstan.

Most of IBK’s reported operations have been around the area of Juma Bazar and Dawlat Abad in Fayrab province in northwestern Afghanistan in August, where as a small group, again, they have taken a distinct role in operations usually against the ANA. Specifically, they seem to have been tasked with firing 82mm mortar rockets or RPG-7s against targets — they like to show these operations in photosets posted on social media. As you can see from the maps below, their main focus of operations has been in areas with predominantly Uzbek populations north of Maymana, close to the border with Turkmenistan.

The Shirin-Tagab district, whose center is north of Juma Bazar, is actually an Uzbek name meaning “sweet water.” The district is predominantly Uzbek.

According to this 2017 report by Obaid Ali of the Afghan Analysts Network, the Taliban has focussed a local recruitment drive on Faryab province, where over half the population are ethnic Uzbeks.

Ali writes that:

One of the provinces on which the Taleban have focused their local recruitment drive is Faryab where Uzbeks constitute more than half of the population, according to United Nations figures.  Faryab is strategically important as it connects the western parts of the country with the north – it was through Faryab that the Taleban moved to capture Mazar-e Sharif in 1997 and 1998 and from where anti-Taleban forces came to re-capture the city in 2001. The province consists of 14 districts; additionally, the district of Ghormach, in neighbouring Badghis, to the west, is sometimes also counted as part of Faryab.

It is hard to estimate the exact proportion of government or Taleban controlled parts of the province. Faryab, however, is generally considered one of the most contested provinces in the north-west. Currently, six districts are fiercely fought over: Almar, Kohistan, Khwaja Sabzposh, Shirin Tagab [emphasis mine – ed], Dawlatabad and Ghormach. There, according to several local sources, the government presence is limited to the district centres and a few kilometres around them….

The spokesman for Faryab’s provincial police chief, Karim Yuresh, told AAN that Taleban fighters in Faryab are all locals, whether Uzbek, Tajik or Pashtun. Getting an estimate of their number, or of those newly recruited through the Uzbek madrasa networks, is difficult, however. According to Yuresh, the Taleban have recruited new fighters from areas under their control, increasing overall numbers. He thought there were more than 3,000 Taleban fighters are active in Faryab. Such figures, however, are often exaggerated, and local officials also often do not have a clear picture of the ethnic composition of insurgent groups.

So IBK is part of this “localized” segment of the Taliban insurgency — ethnic Uzbeks who retain their group and ethnic identity but who are loyal to and act as part of the Taliban. It is not clear (yet! I will find out) if IBK operates alone when it carries out attacks in its area, or if it is acting in cooperation with other fighters, and if so if those fighters are also local Uzbeks or other ethnic groups.

In August, IBK reported carrying out attacks on ANA around the area of Juma Bazar, which is north of Maymana and south of Shirin-Tagab.

In September, the group was active in the same area, this time a little further north around Dawlat Abad. The operations are part of the Taliban’s annual spring offensive, in 2017 known as Operation Mansouri.

What is fascinating is how this Uzbek group maintains its discrete identity as a group while being very close to the Taliban, having pledged bay’ah to two Taliban leaders now; the group’s social media frequently features Taliban news as well as news about the jamaat itself; I believe the same person or persons writes an Uzbek Telegram channel about the Taliban as well as about IBK. The group’s Telegram account uses this Taliban sticker as well, for example:

Here’s where Faryab province is located:

This map shows the location of Juma Bazar and Shirin Tagab:

IBK fighter firing a mortar in operation in Juma Bazar around 23 August

In September, the group carried out an operation near Dawlat Abad, as part of the Taliban’s spring 2017 offensive, Operation Mansouri (the spring offensive does not just happen in the spring — it’s announced then, and runs until the Taliban says it doesn’t).

On December 24, the group posted about another operation near Juma Bazar, in which the group again fired 82mm mortars at a military convoy.