WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson has warned that the militant Islamic State (IS) group wants to recruit young people from Pakistan, Afgha­nistan and Iraq and has stepped up its efforts in those places.

Speaking at the 10th Global Coalition ministerial meeting on IS in Washington on Wednesday, Mr Tillerson also hinted at establishing a safe zone in the Middle East for sheltering Syrian refugees.

“The United States will increase pressure on ISIS and Al Qaeda and will work to establish interim zones of stability, through ceasefires, to allow refugees to return home,” he said. Mr Tillerson said that since the United States and its allies had broken their back in the Middle East, IS militants were moving to other regions to recruit fighters.

“Today, … Daesh (IS) is resorting to many terrorist attacks in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and many other places in Europe in order to send a message that they are still standing and they want for those young people to go fight in its ranks,” he said.

The 68-member global coalition against the IS is the largest in history and 23 of its partners have over 9,000 troops in Iraq and Syria to back the effort to defeat IS militants. Since Pakistan is not a member, it did not attend the ministerial conference.

Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani, who represented his country at the meeting, urged the US to send more forces to help battle the Taliban and the Islamic State extremists.

Addressing a Washington think-tank, he blamed Pakistan for most of the troubles his country was facing and urged the coalition partners to use their influence to persuade Islamabad to stop alleged cross-border terrorist attacks.

Pakistan says it has already eliminated terrorist hideouts on its side of the border but blames Afghanistan for continuing to shelter TTP terrorists.

Mr Rabbani welcomed a recent call by US General John Nicholson, the top US commander in Afghanistan, for a few thousand more troops to help Kabul defeat the militants.

The Trump administration has not yet said if it will respond positively to Gen Nicholson’s appeal. Some 8,400 US troops are already deployed in Afghanistan, in the 16th year of the war and there are plans to increase that number to 15,000 to 20,000. “We stand confident that the new US administration … will remain strategically engaged” and will make “an appropriate decision considering the prevailing security challenges still facing us”.

He said Afghanistan had now stopped asking Pakistan to deliver Taliban to the peace table. Instead, “we want Pakistan to take action against the Taliban leadership. They should not support violence in Afghanistan.”

At recent briefings in Washington, Gen Nicholson said that almost 70 per cent of IS fighters in Afghanistan were Pakis­tani Taliban who joined the group after they were forced out of their country. He acknowledged that although the United States had been fighting in Afghanistan for almost 16 years now, a dozen terrorist groups were still operating there.

The IS in the Pak-Afghan region identifies itself as Islamic State Khorasan and many IS fighters came from Orakzai tribal agency, the US general said.

Published in Dawn, March 24th, 2017

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