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Top US commander says IS actively recruiting in Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The commander of international forces in Afghanistan said on Saturday that the Islamic State group is actively recruiting in Afghanistan but is not yet operational there.

General John F. Campbell said the group’s sophisticated social media campaign was attracting Taliban fighters based in Afghanistan and Pakistan who are disgruntled with the lack of progress in more than 10 years of fighting to overthrow the Kabul government.

As a result, many were pledging allegiance to the Islamic State group, which controls about a third of Syria and Iraq, Campbell told reporters.

“We don’t want it to continue to grow,” he said, adding that efforts were being made to ensure its presence did not reach levels similar to Syria and Iraq.

He said that Afghans largely did not agree with the ideology of the Islamic State group, a factor that could limit its growth in Afghanistan. But he contradicted his earlier statement that IS was not active on the battlefields of Afghanistan by saying it was reportedly fighting the Taliban for control of territory and men.

“In fact, Taliban and Daesh are reportedly fighting each other,” he said, using an acronym for the Islamic State group. “It is absolutely a concern.”

Some Afghan officials, including President Ashraf Ghani have said the group does have an active presence in Afghanistan. Campbell said that the group’s presence has grown considerably in the past six months, though he did not provide numbers.

The Taliban leadership, believed to be based in Pakistan, is under pressure to end the war in Afghanistan and start a dialogue with the Kabul government. Some positive overtures have been made by both sides, as well as by Islamabad. Although it is likely to be years before any peace talks begin, the movement is said by some analysts to be splitting between moderate and extremist elements. It is the more extreme Taliban followers who are seen changing their allegiance.

Campbell said many Taliban had become disillusioned with the leadership and saw the Islamic State group as offering “an opportunity to maybe gain resources and so they pledge allegiance to Daesh.”

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