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Articles

In turf war with Afghan Taliban, Islamic State gaining ground

Reuters, June 30, 2015

Fighters loyal to Islamic State have seized substantial territory in Afghanistan for the first time, witnesses and officials said, wresting areas in the east from rival Taliban insurgents in a new threat to stability. Witnesses who fled fighting in Nangarhar province told Reuters that hundreds of insurgents pledging allegiance to Islamic State pushed out the Taliban, scorching opium poppy fields that help to fund the Taliban’s campaign to overthrow the Afghan government. They also distributed directives purportedly from Islamic State’s Middle East-based chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, although it was not clear whether he issued them for the Afghan theatre or if previous edicts may have been translated.

“They (IS loyalists) came in on many white pickup trucks mounted with big machine guns and fought the Taliban. The Taliban could not resist and fled,” said Haji Abdul Jan, a tribal elder from Achin district. Jan, who saw the early June clashes before fleeing to the provincial capital of Jalalabad, said some villagers welcomed the new arrivals. “Unlike the Taliban, they (IS) don’t force villagers to feed and house them. Instead, they have lots of cash in their pockets and spend it on food and luring young villagers to join them.”

Their accounts are the clearest sign yet that, beyond a few defections by low-level Taliban leaders and sporadic attacks, Islamic State sympathizers pose a more persistent threat. IS loyalists, mostly former Taliban disillusioned by the movement’s unsuccessful bid to return to power in Kabul, are accompanied by dozens of foreign fighters, witnesses said. The IS’ black flag has been hoisted in some areas, and foreign fighters preach in mosques through translators. The identity of the non-Afghan insurgents is not known. Hundreds of militants from around the world already hide out along the Afghan-Pakistan border. Local officials said fighters following IS have seized some territory from the Taliban in at least six of 21 Nangarhar districts. They are Kot, Achin, Deh Bala, Naziyan, Rodat and Chaparhar.