‘Daesh has no strong roots in Afghanistan; can’t pose threat’

Arab News - - INTERNATIONAL -

Afghan of­fi­cials on Fri­day re­jected re­gional con­cerns that Daesh has a strong pres­ence in Afghanistan, adding the net­work could in no way be a threat to the coun­try and the re­gion.

The emer­gence of Daesh in late 2014 in Afghanistan, de­spite the large and long pres­ence of US-led troops fight­ing Tal­iban mil­i­tants in the coun­try raised spec­u­la­tions among some of its neigh­bors, par­tic­u­larly Rus­sia, who ac­cused Wash­ing­ton on many oc­ca­sions of us­ing Daesh as a tool to ex­port mil­i­tancy led by the group onto their soil.

On Thurs­day, Zamir Kab­ulov, the Rus­sian spe­cial pres­i­den­tial rep­re­sen­ta­tive for Afghanistan and di­rec­tor of the Rus­sian For­eign Min­istry's Sec­ond Asia Depart­ment, said that there were at least 7,000 ac­tive Daesh mil­i­tants in Afghanistan.

Re­call­ing fig­ures given by Pres­i­dent Ashraf Ghani in a con­fer­ence in Tashkent about Afghanistan this week, Afghan of­fi­cials speak­ing to Arab News said the to­tal num­ber of Daesh sym­pa­thiz­ers and for­eign com­bat­ants were fewer than 2,000.

“They op­er­ate in small groups in some dis­tricts of only three prov­inces, such as Nan­garhar, Ku­nar and Jowjzan. We are pur­su­ing them wher­ever they go,” said Gen. Mo­ham­mad Radme­nesh, act­ing head of the De­fense Min­istry's Pub­lic Af­fairs Depart­ment.

He said be­tween 3,000 and 4,000 fighters of the group had been killed in of­fen­sives con­ducted by Afghan and US-led troops in the past few years.

“They are not in a po­si­tion to cause a threat to Afghanistan and the re­gion. Coun­tries in the re­gion have the right to ex­press their fears (about Daesh), but we know for sure that the group is not as ac­tive and strong as it is ru­mored to be,” he said.

Pres­i­dent Ashraf Ghani's chief spokesman, Shah Hus­sain Mur­tazawi, told Arab News that the ma­jor­ity of Daesh el­e­ments in Afghanistan are Pak­istani na­tion­als, but he ad­mit­ted among them the pres­ence of some fighters from Cen­tral Asia and mil­i­tants from other parts of the world. For­merly the other for­eign fighters fought along­side the Tal­iban, but de­serted the move­ment and joined Daesh when the lat­ter first emerged in the Mid­dle East.

Radme­nesh said Arab fighters were also among Daesh, adding some may have re­cently trav­eled to Afghanistan via Pak­istan af­ter the nearly to­tal de­feat of the net­work in Syria and Iraq. “But we to­tally re­ject re­ports that they have been trans­ported by planes from the Mid­dle East to Afghanistan.”

The se­cu­rity source said some mem­bers of fac­tions in the north had also joined Daesh for the sake of mon­e­tary con­ces­sions and due to fac­tional ri­val­ries.

“The num­ber (of Daesh fighters in Afghanistan) that the Rus­sians give is not cor­rect. Some have mag­ni­fied Daesh's pres­ence and are sup­port­ing the Tal­iban. That is a mis­take be­cause wher­ever the Tal­iban are, Daesh resur­faces too,” Mur­tazawi said.

Wa­heed Mozh­dah, an an­a­lyst who has been fol­low­ing the in­sur­gency in Afghanistan for decades, also said the size, pres­ence, and threat from Daesh was over­es­ti­mated.

He said it was dif­fi­cult to pro­vide arms and food for small groups of Afghan war­riors dur­ing the Soviet oc­cu­pa­tion of Afghanistan in the 1980s de­spite the flow of vast re­sources and cash then, and that it is far more dif­fi­cult to do so now since many peo­ple are im­pov­er­ished and hate Daesh.

“I think it is im­pos­si­ble to feed, pro­vide arms, and move thou­sands of fighters around in Afghanistan given the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion here,” he told Arab News.

“The Rus­sians por­tray the pres­ence of Daesh as a threat here be­cause it wants the fur­ther fail­ure of Amer­ica in Afghanistan; they say that Amer­ica not only has not been able to de­feat the Tal­iban, but that be­cause of its pres­ence, Daesh has be­come a risk for us and for Cen­tral Asia.”

“Rus­sia ar­gues that when Amer­ica, from thou­sands of miles away, feels threat­ened by Afghanistan's in­se­cu­rity, we have to feel more threat­ened as we are closer. So this tells Cen­tral Asia that we must speak with one voice and act in har­mony against the threat.”

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