U.S. general says extremists are primarily in one of 404 districts of Afghanistan.
The Islamic State jihadist group is unable to make significant inroads in Afghanistan and its fighters are contained in a small part of the country, a U.S. general said Thursday.
The Islamic State in Afghanistan and Pakistan—named a year ago by the group’s leadership—has stepped up its offensive in the east of Afghanistan in recent months. However, the group “is primarily contained to one district out of 404 district within the entire country,” said Brigadier General Wilson Shoffner, spokesman for the U.S.-led military operations in Afghanistan.
That district is in the eastern province of Nangarhar, on the border with Pakistan, Shoffner told reporters in Washington via telephone.
Last year, the military officials estimated that there were between 1,000 and 3,000 I.S. fighters operating in six or seven districts of Nangarhar. But now the number of fighters is “probably on the lower end of that,” he said.
Many of them are former Pakistani Taliban fighters “that have changed allegiance to Daesh,” Shoffner said.
Those fighters were pushed into Afghanistan by a crackdown on militants in Pakistan, Shoffner said. “Daesh does not have a fundamental ideological appeal” among the Taliban, he said.
“Pretty horrific facts committed by Daesh in Nangarhar province that really were unpopular with the population” have helped undermine their support in Afghanistan, he said. Nevertheless, the I.S. group remains a “strategic threat” in Afghanistan, Shoffner said.
In recent months Afghan forces backed by U.S. drones launched a scorched earth offensive to beat back I.S. in Nangarhar, where the group’s reign of terror has displaced thousands of people. The White House in January gave the U.S. military legal authority to target the group’s fighters in Afghanistan, the first such authorization for military action against the I.S. group outside Iraq and Syria
The general said that the U.S. military has substantially increased its attacks on the I.S. group.