UN envoy says ISIS affiliate appears present in nearly all Afghan provinces

Residents gathering next to a damaged minibus after a bomb blast in Kabul, on Nov 17, 2021.
Residents gathering next to a damaged minibus after a bomb blast in Kabul, on Nov 17, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - The United Nations envoy to Afghanistan on Wednesday (Nov 17) delivered a bleak assessment of the situation following the Taliban takeover, saying that an affiliate of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group has grown and now appears present in nearly all 34 provinces.

UN Special Representative Deborah Lyons told the UN Security Council that the Taliban's response to the expansion of ISIS-Khorasan (ISIS-K) "appears to rely heavily on extrajudicial detentions and killings" of suspected ISIS-K fighters.

"This is an area deserving more attention from the international community," she said.

Her comments came hours after the group - an ideological foe of the Taliban - claimed responsibility for two blasts that killed at least one person and wounded six others in a heavily Shi'ite Muslim neighbourhood of Kabul.

The Taliban, she said, has been unable to stem ISIS-K's growth.

"Once limited to a few provinces and the capital, ISIS-K now seems to be present in nearly all provinces, and increasingly active," Ms Lyons said, adding that the number of the group's attacks have increased from 60 strikes in 2020 to 334 this year.

While the Taliban is making "genuine efforts to present itself as a government" since seizing Kabul in August after a 20-year war with the United States, it continues excluding representatives of other sectors of society and curtailing the rights of women and girls.

The UN mission regularly receives credible reports of house searches and the "extrajudicial killings" of former security staff and officials, she said.

Ms Lyons warned anew of a humanitarian catastrophe as winter looms due to a failing economy and drought.

She implored the international community to find ways to fund the salaries of healthcare workers, teachers and humanitarian workers, saying humanitarian aid is insufficient.

The economic collapse will fuel illicit drug, arms and human trafficking and unregulated money exchanges that "can only help facilitate terrorism," Ms Lyons said.

"These pathologies will first affect Afghanistan," she said. "Then they will infect the region."