IS fighting Taliban in Afghanistan, says US commander

Published August 17, 2015
Shoffner says the growth of IS in Afghanistan can also influence US plans for ending its military mission there.—AP
Shoffner says the growth of IS in Afghanistan can also influence US plans for ending its military mission there.—AP

WASHINGTON: Daesh (self-styled Islamic state) militants are attacking Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan, particularly in the areas close to Pakistan, says a senior US military official.

At a news briefing in Washington, Brig Gen Wilson Shoffner said the growth of Daesh in Afghanistan could also influence US plans for ending its 14-year-old military mission there.

The Obama administration, which has reduced the US troop presence in Afghanistan from more than 100,000 to less than 10,000 now, has pledged to withdraw all the troops by the end of 2016.

“We are seeing some fighting between Daesh and the Taliban in Afghanistan. Usually this is a result of Daesh encroaching upon Taliban territory and interfering with established Taliban operations,” said Brig Shoffner, who is the deputy chief of staff for communications at the US mission in Afghanistan.

“Most intense fighting between Daesh and Taliban has taken place in Nangarhar. We do expect to see this throughout the fighting season,” he said.

The two groups also clashed in Helmand, he added. Both provinces border Pakistan.

“It’s clearly a factor — one of many factors — that will be included as part of the (commanders’) assessment at the end of this year,” Brig. Shoffner said.

“We’re committed to working with our Afghan partners to establish sec­urity here, and anyone who’s conduc­ting terrorist acts is something we’re concerned about,” Brig. Shoffner said.

The US official explained that some Taliban were rebranding themselves as Daesh. “We’re not exactly sure why this is. We believe it’s probably an attempt to gain resources or perhaps attention or better leadership,” he said.

Asked why was it a problem for the US or Afghan troops if two of their enemies were fighting each other, Brig. Shoffner said: “It’s a problem because it’s a destabilising influence and … unfortunately the victims are Afghan civilians. And so that’s a security issue.”

Brig. Shoffner explained that the emergence of Daesh was not a problem for Afghanistan alone. “I would just say that Daesh and terrorism pose a common threat to all the states in this region, and so it’s not just an Afghan problem, it’s a regional problem,” he said. He said the US military mission in Afgha­nistan had categorised Daesh as “operationally emergent”, which did not have operational capabilities but had the potential to acquire them.

“We do not see them having the ability to coordinate operations in more than one part of the country at a time,” the US official said.

“We do have reports of them operating in different parts of the country, but again, not in a coordinated fashion.”

The group also was generating some funds in Afghanistan but “not a significant amount”, he said.

Brig. Shoffner explained that recently Daesh had ‘somewhat’ increased its capabilities in Afghanistan but not to the point where they can conduct operations that they do in Iraq and Syria.

“Although we do have the potential for them to evolve into something more dangerous, and we take that very seriously,” he added.

Brig Shoffner also said that the ongoing military operations in Fata had forced many Taliban militants to seek refuge in Afghanistan.

“We’ve also seen an increase in presence of Taliban. We think this is due to the operations being conducted in Pakistan that has possibly pushed some insurgents into the northeast,” he said.

Published in Dawn, August 17th, 2015

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