ISIS gaining ground in Afghanistan: UN report

Smoke rising in the distance behind an ISIS group flag and banner on Sept 11, 2015.
Smoke rising in the distance behind an ISIS group flag and banner on Sept 11, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

UNITED NATIONS, United States (AFP) - The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is making inroads in Afghanistan, winning over a growing number of sympathisers and recruiting followers in 25 of the country's 34 provinces, a UN report said on Friday (Sept 25).

The militant group, which controls large areas of Syria and Iraq, has been trying to establish itself in Afghanistan, challenging the Taleban on their own turf.

Afghan security forces told UN sanctions monitors that about 10 per cent of the Taleban insurgency are ISIS sympathisers, according to the report by the UN's Al-Qaeda monitoring team.

"The number of groups and individuals who are openly declaring either loyalty to or sympathy with ISIL continues to grow in a number of provinces in Afghanistan," said the report, referring to ISIS by another acronym.

Afghan government sources said sightings of the groups with some form of ISIS branding or sympathy were reported in 25 provinces in the war-torn country, it added.

The ISIS-backed groups "regularly engage" Afghan military forces, but fighting with other parts of the insurgency are rare, except in Nangarhar province where they are battling the Taleban for control of the drug trade.

Among the prominent ISIS fighters, the report singled out Abdul Rauf Khadem, a former Taleban adviser to Mullah Omar, who visited Iraq in October 2014 and has since formed his own group in Helmand and Farah provinces.

Khadem allegedly has been recruiting followers by paying out large sums of money.

Foreign fighters from Pakistan and Uzbekistan, some of whom have close ties to Al-Qaeda, have come under the ISIS banner after fleeing their country and have "rebranded themselves" in recent months, the report said.

Up to 70 ISIS fighters have come from Iraq and Syria and now form the core of the militants' branch in Afghanistan, according to the report.

Afghan security authorities do not consider the growing emergence of Islamic State as an "immediate increased threat" but they are keeping an eye on the situation as a "potential new threat", it added.

The UN monitoring team said ISIS had improved its propaganda in English in a sign of increased competition with the Taliban.

The Taleban, who have themselves often been accused of savagery during their 14-year insurgency, are seeking to appear as a bulwark against ISIS' brutality and as a legitimate group waging an Islamic war.

Earlier this month, the Taleban condemned a "horrific" video that apparently showed ISIS fighters blowing up bound and blindfolded Afghan prisoners with explosives.