The Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) has scored military gains as it battles the Taliban for territory in Afghanistan, securing their hold with a brutality that is considered shocking even by the standards of the Afghan insurgency, reports the New York Times (NYT).
Russian Chief of General Staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov recently estimated that there are currently 50,000 militants in Afghanistan, including an estimated 40,000 members of the Taliban and about 3,000 ISIS jihadists.
A United Nations report issued last month estimated that ISIS is active in nearly 75 percent of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces.
ISIS fighters are “flush with cash,” notes the Times, adding, “Rumors circulated that they were paying a signing bonus of $400 to $500, a persuasive offer in a country where a lack of job prospects has helped fuel a new wave of youth emigration.”
The Times, citing unnamed officials, reports that the Afghanistan branch of the group—known as the Islamic State in Khorasan, an ancient name for a region that includes Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, and other surrounding countries—appears to “have little coordination with the main group’s leadership in Iraq and Syria.”
However, the UN report said that up to 70 ISIS jihadists from Iraq and Syria are now part of the ISIS branch in Afghanistan.
ISIS in Afghanistan is primarily made up of former Taliban fighters who defected to the group, reports the Times.
About 10 percent of Taliban members are considered ISIS sympathizers, according to the UN report.
“The [ISIS Afghan branch] fighters may mostly be former Taliban, but they appear to have wholeheartedly taken up the calculated cruelty that the Islamic State has become known for, consolidating their hold with a brutality that has been shocking even by the standards of the Afghan insurgency,” points out the Times.
“Even as the Taliban are winning major victories against the [Afghan] government this year, including a 15-day takeover of Kunduz, they are not exerting monolithic control. The Islamic State has made major inroads in turf battles against Taliban commanders, particularly in places in Nangarhar Province like the Maamand Valley [in Achin District],” it adds. “And the result, rather than weakening the overall insurgency, has mostly been to inflict more chaos and misery for Afghan civilians.”
ISIS began rooting out local Taliban units in a series of quick attacks earlier this year.
The terrorist group “now has a clear foothold across several districts in eastern Nangarhar province, in rugged terrain on the border with Pakistan that had long been mostly out of government control.”
Some of the worst atrocities perpetrated by ISIS have reportedly occurred in Nangarhar’s Achin District.
“The Islamic State brutality in Achin was so extreme that some local Taliban commanders surrendered to the government, and some moved their families to displacement camps in government-controlled areas,” reports NYT.
“Residents say that as soon as the jihadists would take a village they immediately began rounding up anyone even glancingly associated with either the government or the Taliban, including tribal elders,” it adds. “Many were summarily executed, including one group that was massacred en masse in a bomb detonation captured on video.”
Ewaz Khan Basharat, the provincial deputy director for the Refugees and Repatriation Ministry, citing preliminary data, told the Times an excess of 17,000 families in Nangarhar had been displaced by ISIS’s violence.
“Other officials and tribal elders estimate that the number is much higher,” notes the Times.
Gen. John F. Campbell, the top commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, warned against the rise of ISIS in Afghanistan.
“The Afghans welcome the opportunity to share their destiny, but they still desire, need and deserve our assistance,” he told the House Armed Services Committee last week, adding, “Working together, we can be successful.”
“If we withdraw from Afghanistan, the security vacuum will arise and other extremist networks such as [ISIS] could rapidly expand and sow unrest throughout Central and South Asia and potentially target our homeland,” also said the general.
Many Taliban members, angered by the appointment of Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour as their new leader, switched their allegiance to ISIS.