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