(Reuters) – An Afghan insurgent group rejected on Saturday reports that it was providing intelligence on the Taliban to the government and foreign troops.
General Murad Ali Murad, commander of Afghan troops in the north, told Reuters that Hezb-i-Islami fighters had tipped-off government and U.S. forces, revealing locations of key Taliban figures there.
“This is part of the propaganda war by the government, foreign troops and those trying to create differences among us,” said Haroon Zarghoun, a spokesman for Hezb, which is led by former prime minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.
“Anyone doing such work is an apostate and is certainly not a Hezb member,” Zarghoun told Reuters by phone from an undisclosed location. Hekmatyar’s Hezb is one of three major insurgent groups fighting government and foreign forces in Afghanistan — mainly in the east and pockets of the north.
The other two, both seen by NATO as bigger threats, are the Taliban, with strongholds in the south, and the Haqqani network, based mainly in the southeast.
Ousted in a U.S.-led invasion in 2001 the Taliban have re-grouped in their traditional heartlands, but are also now spreading to parts of the north.
However the group has lost a number of commanders in the north in operations by Afghan and foreign troops in recent months which senior Afghan officials said were the result of Hezb fighters selling them out.
While Hezb shares some of the aims of the Taliban, it has led a largely separate insurgency. Earlier this year, Taliban fighters pushed into Hezb-i-Islami strongholds in the north, leading to clashes between the two groups.
Both groups later played down the clashes, but Murad said Hekmatyar’s men — who came off worse in the fighting — were now seeking revenge and were passing on information about their Taliban rivals.
Several Taliban commanders, including the deputy shadow governor of Kunduz and a shadow district governor, have been killed in the last three months, NATO has said, some by air strikes as they drove through a remote desert and others as they met in a field.
Under NATO rules of engagement, such air strikes would require troops to follow strict procedures for positively identifying the insurgents. This in turn would be heavily dependent on reliable intelligence and could suggest such information came from within the insurgency.
Increased localized squabbling could signal divisions in the insurgency after Hezb-i-Islami distanced itself from the Taliban earlier this year when it sent a delegation to Kabul to meet President Hamid Karzai.
While the talks ended without breakthrough, Hezb said it would consider negotiating with the government as long as foreign forces withdrew within a specified timeframe.
The Taliban have always insisted no talks can take place until all foreign troops leave.
(Reporting by Sayed Salahuddin; Editing by David Fox)