KABUL — As he listened, Wali Mohammad Darwazi’s worst fears came true. His 23-year-old son, Mohammad Rafi, had vanished two months before with several former classmates from Kabul University. Now, Darwazi was on the phone with one of the classmates, whom he had reached in Syria.
“Rafi has been martyred,” he told Darwazi, explaining that Rafi and other Afghans had been killed in a U.S. coalition airstrike near the Iraqi oil town of Baiji in May. As Darwazi recounted the conversation last week, he fought back tears.
Afghanistan has long been known as a destination for jihadists. But for Rafi, it was a launching pad into the battlefields of Syria and Iraq. He and his comrades are thought to be the first known cases of Afghans killed there while fighting for the Islamic State, linking Afghanistan to other Muslim and Western nations grappling with the specter of their young men waging jihad in the Middle East.
Their radicalization and decision to fight abroad increases the growing concerns about the Islamic State’s emergence in Afghanistan, suggesting that the group’s influence here is deeper than previously known. The possibility of Afghans being trained in Syria and Iraq, and then returning home to fight and recruit, could pose a new threat to the U.S.-backed government as it struggles to fend off the Taliban at a time when the American military presence is a shadow of its former self.
“Afghanistan is a country that has no doors and no windows,” Darwazi said. “Everyone comes and goes, and anyone plays with it based on his own interest.”