IS 'seeking shelter' in Afghanistan after Middle East losses
Afghanistan plans to launch a major military operation to stop the Islamic State group from making inroads into the country's northern provinces, officials said on Tuesday, after reports noted the presence of militants, including French nationals, in the region.
"[The] ministry of defence is planning to launch an operation against Daesh in northern provinces of Sari Pul, Faryab and Jowzjan," Defence Ministry spokesman Dawlat Waziri told AFP, using an Arabic acronym for the militant group.
"We know there are foreign fighters among them, but we will eliminate all of them regardless of their nationality," he said, without elaborating further.
On Sunday, AFP reported that French and Algerian militants, some of whom arrived from Syria, had joined the ranks of IS in northern Afghanistan where the militant group has established new bases.
European and Afghan local sources confirmed that French citizens were among the fighters in Darzab district of Jowzjan province, suggesting they may have links to Daesh-Khorasan Province (IS-K), the group's franchise in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
This marks the first time that the presence of French IS militants has been recorded in Afghanistan, and comes as analysts suggested foreigners may be heading for the war-torn country after being driven out of Syria and Iraq.
"We have reports that more than 40 foreign Daesh fighters, mostly Uzbeks, are present in Darzab and Qushtepa districts. They are there to recruit locals and train them to become fighters," Mohammad Reza Ghafoori, a spokesman for the governor of Jowzjan, told AFP.
"The government is planning to launch an operation to clear the area from them soon," he said, also without giving further details.
When it first emerged in 2015, Daesh-K overran large parts of eastern Nangarhar and Kunar provinces, though initially its part in the Afghan conflict was overshadowed by the Taliban.
The militants have since spread north, including in Jowzjan on the border with Uzbekistan, and carried out multiple devastating attacks in the capital Kabul.
‘End of the war’
In the last year, the militant group has suffered a host of losses to both its territory and military capabilities across Iraq and Syria.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on Saturday declared victory in a three-year war by Iraqi forces to defeat the Islamic State group, which at its height endangered Iraq's very existence as a country.
In Syria, IS have faced separate onslaughts by forces backed by Russia and the US in Deir az-Zour province and now control just a tiny sliver of the region along the Euphrates river.
The defeat of IS is a massive turnaround for an organisation that in 2014 ruled over 7 million people in a territory as large as Italy encompassing large parts of Syria and nearly a third of Iraq.
But the huge losses suffered by IS have sparked fears that foreign fighters may now relocate, bringing a threat of violence with them.