A letter drafted by a senior Daesh militant and obtained by The Associated Press points to a growing power struggle within the group's Afghan affiliate, pitting notoriously fierce Uzbek fighters against Pakistanis seen as too close to that country's powerful intelligence service.
The rumblings of discontent come as the Daesh affiliate, which refers to itself as the Khorasan Province, is at war with both the U.S.-backed government and the more well-established Taliban, with which it differs on tactics, leadership and ideology.
The Daesh affiliate emerged in 2014 and refers to itself as the Khorasan Province, an ancient term for an area that includes parts of Afghanistan, Iran and Central Asian states. It has pledged allegiance to the Daesh group in Iraq and Syria but consists mainly of disgruntled former Taliban and other insurgents from South and Central Asia.
The letter, obtained by a fighter with ties to the Daesh affiliate and then provided to AP, was signed by Moawiya Uzbekistani, the apparent nom de guerre of an Uzbek militant, who claims to have become the leader of the Daesh affiliate after the death of Abdul Hasib, who was killed in a joint U.S.-Afghan operation in April.
Uzbekistani rejects reports that another fighter, who he identifies as Sheikh Aslam Farouqi, has been chosen to lead the group and suggests Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence is behind the rumors.
Militants belonging to allied groups said Central Asian fighters as well as Afghans want the leadership of the group taken out of Pakistani hands, even though the founder of Daesh in Afghanistan, Hafiz Saeed Khan, was a Pakistani tribesman. Khan was killed in a U.S. drone strike in July 2016. The rift seemed to widen with a recent Daesh meeting in Pakistan's Orakzai tribal belt, from where Khan originates, according to two people familiar with the meeting, which was said to have been attended by 40 senior IS commanders.
The council appointed Saif-ul Islam, a close Pakistani ally of Saeed, as the new leader. With the many names used by insurgents it wasn't immediately clear if Aslam Farouqi and Saif-ul Islam were the same person. Sheikh Abdul Qadir Khorasani, an Afghan from the eastern Kunar province, was appointed deputy, they said. The militants all spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to brief reporters. There has been no official Daesh confirmation of a new leader and in Washington intelligence officials refused to comment.
The growing assertiveness of the Uzbek militants within the Daesh affiliate is particularly worrying. Uzbek fighters were so vicious in Pakistan's South Waziristan province that they drove the area's fractious tribesmen to unite to push them out in 2015. They then based themselves in North Waziristan before being driven across the border by a Pakistani military offensive. They have since clashed with the Taliban in different parts of Afghanistan and claimed responsibility for brazen and deadly attacks in Kabul, including a daytime assault and siege of an Afghan military hospital that killed 50 people earlier this year.