As America’s lengthiest war lags on, yet more evidence has surfaced that the country’s complex entanglements in the Middle East might ultimately be successful — at least in creating more terrorists: In eastern Afghanistan, the Islamic State has joined forces with local Taliban factions in order to fight U.S.-backed fighters attempting to oust them both.
According to Afghan officials cited by the Wall Street Journal, the two insurgent groups bitterly fighting each other in previous months had allowed ample opportunity for U.S.-backed Afghan forces to reclaim territory in the region.
Several months ago, however, clashes between the groups of fighters abruptly ceased following what appears to be timid truce agreements in the eastern part of the country — allowing Daesh to concentrate on battling government forces.
“They fought deadly battles with the Taliban before,”explained Gen. Mohammad Zaman Waziri. “But over the past two months, there has been no fighting among them.”
On Saturday, Daesh militants claimed they had captured U.S. military equipment and weapons in Afghanistan, including the identification card of U.S. Army Specialist Ryan Jay Larson, for which they provided images as evidence.
Pentagon officials insisted the equipment has simply been left behind after an unspecified military operation and that no U.S. personnel have been captured, adding Larson had “been accounted for and remains in a duty status within his unit.”
“SPC Larson was attached to a unit conducting a partnered [operation] with Afghan forces,” U.S. military spokesman Commander Ron Flesvig toldReuters in a statement by email. “The soldier’s ID and some of the equipment were left behind after the [operation]. The loss of personal identification is unfortunate.”
Indeed Larson’s identification in conjunction with the other supplies provided an opportunistic propaganda coup for the militants — particularly in light of its alliance with the Taliban — amid the Islamic State’s growing influence in Afghanistan’s eastern region.
Though Taliban fighters remain the dominant insurgent group, even in the east, Daesh has steadily ratcheted up its attacks in recent months.
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In late July, three Islamic State suicide bombers claimed the lives of at least 80 Shia Hazara protesters and wounded some 230 more in Kabul — deemed one of the worst attacks since 2001, and the group’s first ever, in the capital city.
Then, last Monday, the Taliban took credit for an explosion and attempted takeover of the Northgate Hotel in Kabul — which caters to foreign military and civilian contractors — leaving one police officer dead and three wounded.
Even with the abrupt ceasefire between Taliban and Daesh militants, Afghan officials believe their truce to be purely tentative.
However, Daesh has capitalized on crushing poverty in Afghanistan’s eastern provinces by simultaneously ending its more brutal tactics and offering small salaries to local Taliban willing to join the mutual cause of effecting an Islamic system of law. In an attempt to win over its longtime foe, Islamic State members visit mosques and offer food while discussing the groups’ similar goals, as the WSJ reports.
“They want to brainwash the youth,”said Sarkani district tribal elder, Malak Khan Bacha. “They are spreading propaganda against foreign troops and the government. They give money to people.”
In an effort to quash the burgeoning Islamic State in Afghanistan, the U.S. military has ramped up efforts and bolstered troop numbers recently. According to the WSJ, “The U.S.-Afghan operation in the east has cleared Islamic State strongholds in several districts in Nangarhar province, driving the militants further into the mountainous areas close to the border and north to Kunar and Nuristan provinces” — chasing fighters from the region as they flee.
Despite what amounts to an effective ceasefire between the Taliban and Daesh, the top U.S. commander in charge of Afghanistan, Army Gen. John Nicholson, claims the truce does not extend beyond limited areas in Kunar.
“There’s still a conflict even though they may have a local cease-fire in place,” Nicholson said. “There’s always been a live-and-let-live dimension to some of the social fabric.”
It remains unclear how long this tentative cooperation will last — and whether or not it will grow in size and popularity. Though U.S. officials haven’t admitted as much, the Taliban-Daesh alliance seems to prove the two traditionally-opposed groups are willing to join together to some degree — at least as far as battling U.S. efforts is concerned.