Accessibility links

Breaking News

Former Afghan Spy Chief Says Islamic State Is 'Psychological Warfare'

Amrullah Saleh
Amrullah Saleh

KABUL, For months, Afghan and international media have been reporting the appearance of the Islamic State (IS) across many parts of Afghanistan.

Some have speculated that the hardline militant group, also known as ISIS or ISIL and now controlling large parts of Iraq and Syria, was capable of overrunning Afghanistan after most Western troops withdrew last year.

But former Afghan top spy Amrullah Saleh says the presence of IS in Afghanistan currently amounts to "psychological warfare" and not a reality.

"In reality, Daesh (the Arabic name for IS) will not be able to gain influence or spread roots here, because whatever Daesh has been doing in Iraq and Syria, the Taliban have been doing the same in Afghanistan for the past 20 years," he tells Radio Free Afghanistan. "The only difference is that the Taliban never executed their prisoners in orange jumpsuits."

He says the groups and individuals who have joined IS were formerly associated with the Taliban.

"Another reason that Daesh won't be able to establish a firm footing here is that it is a Salafi or Wahhabi organization, most of whose leaders are Arab," he says. "Their leaders are in Iraq and Syria, and they are not able to attract and recruit many Afghans."

Saleh says the rise of IS in the Middle East was prompted by the extreme hatred of some Sunni Salafis toward secular dictators or the monopoly of power by Shi'ite regimes in some countries.

"The Afghan context does not have any similarities with the Middle East, and this is why I am not worried about the emergence of IS in Afghanistan," he says.

Saleh says that so far he has not seen any indications that elements in neighboring Pakistan are behind the rise of IS. He added that the conditions Afghanistan's neighbors, Iran, Central Asia and South Asia were not ripe for the emergence of IS.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, however, called IS a "terrible threat" to the countries of Western and Central Asia during his recent visit to Washington, D.C. He told a joint session of U.S. Congress on March 25 that some IS fighters had already been sent to his country to explore its vulnerabilities.

"To date, Afghanistan's people have rejected the violent [IS] movement. We are willing to speak truth to terror," he said.

In February, the emergence of new threats including IS prompted Washington to review its withdrawal plans and slow down the troop pullout from Afghanistan.

Since September, IS militants have expanded their presence in southern, northern and western Afghan provinces. The presence of IS appears to have expanded despite the killing of Mullah Abdul Rauf Khadim, the purported head of the group in Afghanistan.

He was targeted in an airstrike in the southern province of Helmand in February.