Defence secretary Gavin Williamson gave the government’s first confirmation the Afghan wing of the Islamist group known as IS-Khorasan or IS-K poses a direct threat to the UK.
A rival to both the Taliban and al Qaeda, Isis has gathered strength in the country in recent years. The US military estimates there are around 2,000 fighters allied to the group operating in the country, their numbers bolstered by militants fleeing Iraq and Syria.
“What we see is a real threat posed by these groups to the UK and we’ve got to be acting as we are to ensure that we do not see future Manchester-style attacks,” Mr Williamson told Sky News during a visit to Afghanistan’s fourth largest city, Mazeer-i-Shareef, which sits around 270 miles north of the country’s capital, Kabul.
“We consistently see terrorist groups operating here in Afghanistan, [and] evidence of their links back not just to the United Kingdom but to the whole of continental Europe.”
Isis’ grip on Afghanistan has been weakened in recent weeks by the killing of its country head, Abu Sayed Orakzai, according to the US military. He was reportedly killed alongside 10 other fighters from the group.
But the outgoing head of the international coalition General John Nicolson told US government-funded radio station Voice of America: ”They have been able to replenish a portion of their losses by recruiting from other violent extremist organisations. Despite this recruiting they are losing fighters and losing ground.”
Mr Williamson’s comments came as an extra 440 British troops arrived in the country to help stabilise the country, following a request from the US. It brings the total number of British personnel in the country to 1,100, the third largest behind the United States and Germany.
Their arrival comes just over two weeks after Isis claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing that targeted a Shia area of Kabul, killing 48 students.
The militant group said through its affiliated news agency Amaq that its bomber, identified as “martyrdom-seeking brother Abdul Raouf al-Khorasani”.
The attack targeted a building where students were preparing to sit university entrance exams. The bomber had walked into a classroom at a Shia educational centre in Dasht-e-Barchi.
Most of the victims were young men and women who had recently graduated from high school.
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