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NRF and AFF: Joint event and increased attacks in Kabul

NRF and AFF jointly commemorated fallen commanders in their first shared online event, where leaders emphasised the need for unity; both groups have intensified their activity in Kabul in recent months, but while the NRF notably increased attacks during Ramadan, the AFF announced a suspension of operations.


13 May 2024

Photo: © Afghan Witness

On 13 April 2024, the Afghanistan Freedom Front (AFF) convened a virtual meeting to commemorate the first anniversary of the loss of their prominent commanders, Akmal Ameer, Abdul Basir Andarabi, and five of their fellow fighters. The Taliban killed these fighters in a raid in Parwan province’s Salang district in April 2023. The online meeting was attended by AFF leader Yasin Zia and National Resistance Front (NRF) leader Ahmad Massoud. Other participants included former parliamentarian and university Professor Mohaiuddin Mahdi, former Spokesman for the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF) General Ajmal Omar Shinwari, former Governor of Takhar Mawlawi Abdullah Qarluq, and former Director of Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the Ministry of Interior Bismillah Taban. Attendees also included Parwana Ibrahimkhel and Razia Barakzai, representatives of Afghanistan’s women’s protest movement, former parliamentarian Mohammad Azim Mohseni, and the former Governor of Zabul, Rahmatullah Yarmal.

Figure: Screenshot of the online meeting showing leaders of two main resistance fronts, Ahmad Massoud (bottom right) and Dr Yasin Zia (top left).

AW notes that this marks the first time that Massoud and Zia, leaders of the two major anti-Taliban armed resistance factions, participated in a shared online gathering. According to pro-resistance journalist Asar Hakimi, the two leaders’ simultaneous participation “symbolised a resolute commitment to joint efforts for Afghanistan's freedom from Taliban control.”     

In his address, published on the Azadagan YouTube channel, NRF leader Massoud underscored that the Taliban left no alternative for their opposition but warfare. He emphasised the prevalence of fraudulent NRF-affiliated accounts disseminating propaganda – aimed at undermining other resistance fronts, notably the AFF – as a component of the Taliban’s cyber warfare tactics. He stressed the imperative of solidarity among anti-Taliban resistance factions, claiming that anyone opposing their common enemy (the Taliban) was regarded as a comrade. “Today, if anyone throws a stone at the enemy, he is one of us; he is dear to us and is by our side,” he said. He added that he envisioned a future marked by a liberated and sovereign Afghanistan, built on the pillars of unity and the continuity of resistance.

In his speech, shared on X (formerly Twitter), AFF leader Zia commended the sacrifices made by members of resistance forces in their struggle against the Taliban. He asserted that the Taliban's proclaimed victory was not genuine, but rather the result of striking a deal with the US to attain power. Zia reiterated the necessity of armed resistance as the sole recourse against the Taliban, and stressed the importance of unity among all anti-Taliban resistance factions to achieve victory. He encouraged all Afghans to rally behind resistance forces; he said that while civilians may eventually join the cause, he urged that it was wiser to join sooner rather than later. 

In her address, women’s rights activist Ibrahimkhel highlighted the significance of women’s protests against the Taliban, describing them as complementary to the armed resistance efforts led by the NRF and AFF against the Taliban. While the NRF leader consistently lauds the courage and resilience of women activists in their struggle against the Taliban, AW notes that this event marks the first time that women protesting against the Taliban have openly acknowledged their efforts as complementary to armed resistance against Afghanistan’s de facto authorities.

On 16 April 2024, in a rare move, the AFF echoed the stance of the NRF by reposting an official statement from January 2024, denouncing any attempts to sow discord among resistance factions as tactics of the Taliban. In the referenced post, along with screenshots of NRF’s verified social media accounts, the group reiterated that only the accounts depicted in the screenshots truly represent the NRF. The last instance of AFF reposting NRF content occurred in March 2023, when the group endorsed the NRF’s announcement of a spring offensive.

AW notes that some alleged pro-resistance social media accounts, one of which misuses the NRF logo, aim to foster disunity and conflict between the NRF and AFF by spreading propaganda against the latter. AW also observed that some pro-NRF accounts disseminated an audio file on 18 April 2024, purportedly attributed to AFF leader Zia, in which Zia allegedly claims that the anti-Taliban resistance front conducting the most attacks should assume leadership of the resistance, with other factions following it. The audio message further suggests that leadership should be determined by merit rather than lineage. While AW confirmed the authenticity of this recording with local sources, AW learned that this was not a new recording, suggesting that it was likely being reshared to sow discord between resistance groups. Although this kind of online behaviour appears to represent a concerted effort to undermine solidarity among anti-Taliban resistance groups, AW was unable to verify Taliban involvement in these activities.

AFF and NRF increased activity in Kabul

AFF and NRF are the most active resistance groups in Afghanistan, with numerous verified attacks targeting Taliban members in the past years. By the end of 2023, the two groups were reporting activity in a wide range of locations, mostly focused on the northeast of the country, with various overlapping provinces.

At the start of 2024, and with the impending arrival of the spring fighting season, both groups increased their military efforts in the capital. Between 11 January 2024 and 30 April 2024, the AFF and NRF claimed 44 attacks against Taliban targets across 12 police districts (PD) in Kabul city. The majority were documented by the groups, with footage uploaded to their official X accounts. Although AW was only able to verify a sample, due to many of the attacks occurring at nighttime, with limited visibility, there is little reason to believe the claims were fraudulent. The footage shows no signs of editing and the content, which featured the explosions, has not been previously encountered on social media. 

The map of Kabul below shows the number of claimed attacks, from both AFF and NRF, per PD, between 11 January 2024 and 30 April 2024. The groups appear to be focusing their operations on the centre and northern area of the capital. It is noteworthy that NRF claimed attacks in six PDs that had no recent reported activity by the AFF, meanwhile the AFF did not claim any attacks in PDs not already targeted by the NRF.

Figure: Number of attacks claimed by AFF and NRF in each police district of Kabul, between 11 January and 30 April 2024.

Despite an increase in attacks targeting Kabul since the start of 2024, the two resistance groups chose to deal with the period of Ramadan very differently. The NRF showed a significant increase in attacks, moving from one claimed operation in the four-week period before Ramadan, to 16 during the holy month; meanwhile, the AFF announced a suspension of operations during Ramadan. The graph below highlights this difference.

Figure: Number of claimed attacks performed by AFF and NRF resistance groups in Kabul, between 11 January and 30 April 2024, highlighting the Ramadan period between 11 March and 10 April 2024.

Despite having a common enemy and overlapping areas of operation, the two resistance groups appear to have different priorities, which translated into contrasting decisions regarding attacks in Kabul during Ramadan.

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