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Villagers Rush To Join Afghan Forces Fighting IS

Afghan security forces patrol following an operation against Islamic State (IS) militants in Pachir Wa Agam district of Nangarhar province on December 3.
Afghan security forces patrol following an operation against Islamic State (IS) militants in Pachir Wa Agam district of Nangarhar province on December 3.

Hundreds of local villagers freed from Islamic State control in a remote eastern Afghan district are signing up to join a militia to fight IS, provincial authorities said.

Officials in eastern Nangarhar province said hundreds of men have waited in long lines to become part of the militia.

"We started the local forces enlisting and deployment process. Our cleanup operations will continue until the local forces are settled and able to maintain security in the area," Shirin Aqa, a spokesperson for the Afghan army in Nangarhar, told VOA's Afghan service.

The recruits will be deployed in several security checkpoints to be established in vulnerable areas of the district. Members of the Afghan National Security Forces will remain in the area to assist in the transition, said Khogyani, a spokesperson for the Nangarhar governor.

"These 500 men will be fighting within the Afghan National Security Forces framework in the next few days," Khogyani said.

Nangarhar’s police spokesperson Hazrat Hussain Mashriqiwal said a majority of the recruits will be phased into local police and Afghan security forces. The recruits will be put on the government payroll.

Weapon Worries

But recruits fear the government will not supply them with new and heavy weapons needed counter IS attacks.

"Unless we are supplied with heavy weapons and equipment, I am not sure if we would be able to protect the area with only Kalashnikovs [automatic rifles] and old guns that we possess," said Maazigar, a local resident who, like many Afghans, uses only a first name.

Mashriqiwal said that the central government will supply weapons to the villagers.

IS Activity

The forming of the militia comes after Afghan joint forces recently cleared the Pachir Wa Agam region of IS fighters who controlled key areas in the remote mountainous district, which borders Pakistan.

IS militants stormed Pachir Wa Agam early last month and captured large portions of the district, including several checkpoints manned by local militias. More than 80 people were killed or wounded in the fighting, authorities and local tribesmen said. The fighting displaced hundreds of families and many homes were set on fire by IS fighters.

A delegation of tribal elders, who attempted to secure the release of dozens of local militiamen being held by IS, was sent back with "tough conditions" from the terror group, including the need for the locals to "renew their Islamic belief" as, according to IS, they were not Muslims because they support government forces.

IS has been active in several districts in Nangarhar for the past two years. The group has imposed taxes on agriculture activities in areas it controls, and it has been cutting down trees in some parts of the province in a timber-smuggling operation to neighboring Pakistan.

-- Written by Noor Zahid for Voice of America. Zabihullah Ghazi also contributed reporting from Nangarhar.