Islamic State fighters have taken substantial areas of Afghanistan for the first time, displacing the Taliban to become the new masters of parts of the east of the war-torn country.
Known commonly by the acronym ISIS, encompassing their initial territorial holdings in Syria and Iraq, the Islamic State has rapidly expanded its influence in the year since its establishment as the new Caliphate last Ramadan. Fighters pledging allegiance to the Caliphate now control territory accross North Africa and the Middle East, including Boko Haram in Nigeria and now in Afghanistan.
Witnesses who fled fighting in Nangarhar province told Reuters that hundreds of insurgents pledging allegiance to Islamic State pushed out the Taliban, scorching opium poppy fields that help to fund the Taliban’s campaign to overthrow the Afghan government.
They also distributed directives purportedly from Islamic State’s Middle East-based chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, although it was not clear whether he issued them for the Afghan theater or if previous edicts may have been translated.
“They (ISIS loyalists) came in on many white pickup trucks mounted with big machine guns and fought the Taliban. The Taliban could not resist and fled,” said Haji Abdul Jan, a tribal elder from Achin district.
“Unlike the Taliban, they (ISIS) don’t force villagers to feed and house them. Instead, they have lots of cash in their pockets and spend it on food and luring young villagers to join them”, he said. ISIS forces have already banned the sale of cigarettes and have burned poppy fields, the staple of the traditional local economy.
Reports suggest many of the Islamic State forces in Afghanistan are former Taliban fighters who are following the money to the now more successful Caliphate. Black flags fly over villages and foreign Imams preach the extremist ISIS creed in Mosques, with translators on hand to render their words into local dialects. The scenes are redolent of foreign leaders active within Boko Haram, who deliver sermons and verdicts on punishments through translators.
One video captured by Nigerian security forces shows a man of presumed Sudanese origin handing down sharia law judgements before a large crowd of Nigerian villagers. After he finishes speaking, some men are flogged, others have their hands cut off, and one is buried to his neck and then stoned to death. The ISIS leader giving orders to the Boko Haram militants says: “God ordered all believers to enforce his punishments… God ordered us to cut off the hand of the thief and flog the adulterer and adulteress”.
Reuters Contributed to This Report
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