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Al-Qaeda affiliates a long-term threat in Afghanistan: UN

Al-Qaeda-linked networks pose a long-term security threat in Afghanistan, endangering the region and beyond despite the 2014 drawdown of NATO troops, a UN Security Council report warns.

UNITED NATIONS: Al-Qaeda-linked networks pose a long-term security threat in Afghanistan, endangering the region and beyond despite the 2014 drawdown of NATO troops, a UN Security Council report warns.

Al-Qaeda affiliates Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi "regularly" take part in attacks on Afghan forces in eastern and southern Afghanistan, according to the June report obtained on Friday by AFP.

In the north, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan "continues to gather strength" among Afghans of Uzbek origin and operates in several provinces, it added.

Afghan security forces in January twice reported the presence of Chechen fighters in Logar and Kabul provinces, and Al-Qaeda affiliates are unlikely to leave Afghanistan in the near future.

"They therefore present a worrying, long-term security threat emanating from Afghanistan into the region and beyond," with particular ramifications for South and Central Asia, the UN experts said.

The report is likely to make grim reading for the United States, whose primary motivation in invading Afghanistan in late 2001 was to wipe out Al-Qaeda safe havens after the 9/11 attacks.

It comes as Afghans head to the polls on Saturday for a second-round election to choose a successor to President Hamid Karzai in the country's first democratic transfer of power.

The Security Council committee monitoring sanctions against the Taliban submitted the report after five visits to Afghanistan and extensive talks with the government and international forces.

On the battlefield, the Taliban have acquired more sophisticated improvised-explosive devices since late 2013.

In January, authorities in Kandahar seized a suicide vest camouflaged as a leather jacket, which analysis showed would have been practically undetectable with metal detectors.

"Explosive material was woven into the threads of the padding of the jacket, making it also unrecognisable as a suicide best during a physical body search," the report said.

It described the 13-year conflict between insurgents and the Western-backed government as "military stalemate" with the Taliban unable to take new terrain but posing an active threat.

Despite the end of the NATO combat mission this year, Afghan forces expect to maintain the status quo with enough international financial and logistical support.

But there is little imminent prospect of a substantive settlement, despite renewed chances of talks between the government and insurgents after the election.

There is no consensus among the Taliban, and the report described an increasingly divided insurgency with new organisations making the security situation more volatile.

Some start-ups have posted videos and articles in praise of Al-Qaeda affiliates such as Al-Qaeda in Iraq and threatened attacks against countries perceived to be backing Kabul, it said.

Reports that more than 50 mid-level Taliban operatives were assassinated in January and February may be another sign of growing rivalry, the UN experts warned.

Financially, the Taliban have enjoyed a "bumper year" -- collecting millions of dollars from drugs, illegal mining, corruption and extortion -- and with growing finances comes less potential incentive to negotiate with the government.

The Taliban is increasingly changing from a group "based on religiously couched ideology to a coalition of increasingly criminalised networks, guided by the profit motive," the report said.

It quoted Afghan security officials as estimating the Taliban extract $7-8 million a month from southern province Kandahar through drugs, extortion and illegal mining.

In neighbouring Helmand province, the main poppy-producing region, the May harvest could yield $50 million "in the worst case scenario," the report cited Afghan official estimates as saying.

Taliban revenue from illegally mined onyx marble is believed to be "significantly larger than $10 million a year," it added.

The report says there around 25-30 illegal mining operations in southern Helmand, most of them close to the border with Pakistan allowing onyx marble to be easily smuggled onto the international market.

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