EU monitoring Islamist extremism in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan

The European Union is concerned that in the longer term, Afghanistan could revert to being a safe haven for international terrorists who might target EU countries. The EU’s “preparedness to deal with the threat from terrorism has evolved significantly over the past decade”, according to the latest communique to European Parliament.

The Shadow of Taliban

An EU action plan “recognises that the Taliban takeover constitutes a ‘propaganda victory’, resonating with and encouraging jihadist and Islamist extremists globally, including in Europe” and calls on EU intelligence networks “to monitor the impact of the Taliban’s takeover in Afghanistan on the global Islamist extremist and jihadist propaganda scene, including the Afghan diaspora and Muslims in Europe”. The briefing says the EU will also “increase efforts to counter the spread and influence of Islamist extremist ideology” in Afghanistan and the region.

The briefing, titled “Security situation in Afghanistan implications for Europe”, says: “In response to events in Afghanistan, the Council published a counter-terrorism action plan on Afghanistan in September, setting out four clear objectives, and making 22 recommendations for action….The EU’s ‘strategic compass’ process provides a framework for these discussions, including negotiations over a potential future rapid reaction or ‘initial entry’ force, able to provide a European capability to react to events such as those that unfolded in Afghanistan. Members of the European Parliament have called on the EU to reinforce significantly its capacity to act autonomously and for the strategic compass to address the terrorist threat from Afghanistan.”

The role of EU

The EU proposes, and is implementing, screening Afghan nationals and others evacuated from Afghanistan. The governments of EU states are to “systematically check biographical and biometric data of Afghan nationals or presumed Afghans and other nationals coming from Afghanistan and arriving at the EU’s external borders, including individuals evacuated to the EU, against all the relevant databases”.

Another critical recommendation reads like something out of a military manual to tackle terrorism. “The plan also recommends improvements in information-sharing, so that updated ‘battlefield information’ collected in Afghanistan – such as ‘fingerprints found on explosive devices or biometric data of fighters detained in Afghan prisons and who have been released by the Taliban’ – is available to the competent national authorities and Europol. The plan calls for screening to cover both Afghan citizens evacuated by the US to the western Balkans who may seek to enter the EU, and those evacuated to US bases in theEU, some of whom have requested asylum in EU Member States.”

The EU action plan highlights the importance of “assessing the presence and activities of terrorist groups in Afghanistan and their financing, and of monitoring terrorists’ travel between the EU and Afghanistan”. It calls for sharing “strategic intelligence on the terrorist threat resulting from developments in Afghanistan, especially through EUINTCEN, the EU’s in-house intelligence analysis and reporting service”.

The EU will be setting up an EU-level “pool of security-vetted specialists in Afghan languages, including Pashtu, Dari, Urdu and Farsi to monitor social networks and to promote counterterrorism dialogues with countries in the region.

The sources of Taliban funding

The EU is mooting the idea of cutting off two sources of Taliban funding: the drugs trade and arms trafficking. “The UN estimates that in 2020 Afghan farmers produced some 6300 tons of opium, accounting for more than 90 per centof illicit global supply. There has also been a surge in the production of synthetic drugs in Afghanistan. According to some estimates, the Taliban may have earned US$400 million a year in recent years, equivalent to a quarter of the country’soverall revenue, from drug-related activities, including opium production and the production of ephedra, methamphetamine and cannabis.”

The plan also draws attention to the “risk that weaponry seized by the Taliban after the withdrawal of US and allied troops, and taken from Afghan security forces, may be sold”. In this context, the EU is implementing the 2020-2025 EU action plan on “firearms trafficking, particularly with respect to the western Balkans, Moldova and Ukraine”.

Admitting that the Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan “represents a symbolic victory for the jihadist cause in general”, the communique says Europe should be concerned about “ideological boost for jihadist movements in sub-Saharan Africa”.Armed terror groups have increasingly developed strong Salafi ideologies and forged ties with movements predominantly active in the Middle East, namely al-Qaeda and Islamic State, and even the Taliban. “The spike in violence attributed to jihadist groups, and the destabilising effect this is having on the countries and regions involved, has prompted international stakeholders, including the European Union, to launch counter-terrorism operations and to deploy civilian and military missions,” it says.