KABUL — Hundreds of foreign militants are fleeing a months-long Pakistani military offensive and seeking sanctuary in Afghanistan, bolstering the ranks of Taliban factions and triggering one of the bloodiest starts to the spring fighting season in years, according to Afghan officials and analysts.
The growing influence of the foreign fighters, officials said, was evident over the weekend in the northeastern province of Badakhshan, where a few hundred Taliban fighters overran Afghan army posts, killing 18 soldiers and wounding 10. Eight of the soldiers were beheaded — a first by the Taliban in this region — before the insurgents vanished into the mountains with seized weapons.
“The foreign Taliban fighters beheaded the soldiers, not the local Taliban,” said Ahmad Nawid Froutan, a spokesman for the provincial governor. “In the past, the local Taliban have never committed such brutality.”
The fresh wave of foreigners, with probable ties to al-Qaeda and the ultra-violent Pakistani branch of the Taliban, has added a potential new dimension to the Afghan conflict, threatening more instability in the first year after the United States officially declared its longest war over. With most American and international forces gone, the foreign fighters will further test the already beleaguered Afghan security forces as they battle to fill the military gap.