SHIBERGHAN, Afghanistan – An Afghan official sees Islamic State (IS) militants increasing their influence in a northern province after inflicting a recent defeat on their Taliban rivals.
Abdul Rahman Mahmudi, the caretaker governor of Jawzjan Province, says IS fighters are gradually encircling Sheberghan. This main city serves as provincial center and houses all important government offices.
“Their aim is to pressure the locals so much that they cease cooperating with the government and join Daesh,” Mahmudi told Radio Free Afghanistan on November 6 while referring to IS with its Arabic acronym, which is commonly used to identify the ultra-radical Sunni extremist group across Afghanistan.
The IS fighters are apparently emboldened after beating a Taliban attack. Last week, Jawzjan Governor Lutfullah Azizi said that a week of clashes in Darzab and Qush-Teppa districts forced more than 2,000 families to seek shelter in Sheberghan.
“The fighting is intense, and more than 1,000 fighters are involved,” he told Radio Free Afghanistan. “Some 500 IS fighters are taking on 600 to 700 Taliban militants pushing to capture territory from IS.”
Mahmudi now sees IS militants, mostly veteran Central Asian fighters, trying to bolster their ranks by recruiting local youth to their ranks.
“Many residents of Qush-Teppa have approached me to say they are keen on keeping Daesh out of their homeland,” he said. “They are asking the government to support them in standing up to and fighting Daesh.”
An IS cell emerged in Jawzjan’s remote Darzab district a year ago. It now appears to have extended its reach for more than 120 kilometers by threatening Sheberghan.
IS fighters, mostly believed to be from Uzbekistan and other Central Asian countries, have since imposed harsh rules in the regions they overran. They have closed most schools in Darzab and have forced teachers and other government employees to pay them money. Locals frequently accuse IS militants of plundering their livelihoods.
On November 5, residents of Nawabad village in Qush-Teppa claimed that IS militants took away more than 500 cattle in a raid.
IS militants operating in remote Afghan regions mostly resist talking to journalists. They, however, periodically post propaganda messages and videos over the Internet. Some videos and photographs have shown IS militants killing prisoners or displaying the dead bodies of Taliban fighters.
Abubakar Siddique wrote this story based on Alim Rahmanyar’s reporting from Sheberghan in Jawzjan.