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Syria, Iraq… and now Afghanistan: Isis advance enters Helmand province for the first time, Afghan officials confirm

The group is now active in southern Afghanistan, recruiting fighters and even clashing with the native Taliban

Adam Withnall
Tuesday 13 January 2015 10:29 GMT
Afghan National Army soldiers march during a handover ceremony of NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kandahar province on January 11, 2015
Afghan National Army soldiers march during a handover ceremony of NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kandahar province on January 11, 2015 (AFP/Getty Images)

Isis, the militant group that claims to have established a “caliphate” across Iraq and Syria, has now reportedly extended its territories into Afghanistan for the first time.

According to the Afghan military, the organisation that calls itself “Islamic State” is actively recruiting and operating across the south of the country.

Officials say a man identified as Mullah Abdul Rauf has been claiming to represent Isis in the region, setting up a network of followers who are inviting people to join them across the southern Helmand province.

But they have clashed with the local Taliban, military sources claim, whose leaders have warned people to have nothing to do with Rauf.

General Mahmood Khan, the deputy commander of the army’s 215 Corps, told the Associated Press: “A number of tribal leaders, jihadi commanders and some ulema (religious council members) and other people have contacted me to tell me that Mullah Rauf had contacted them and invited them to join him.”

Amir Mohammad Akundzada, the governor of the Nimroz province adjacent to Helmand, said Rauf was a former Taliban commander – as well as a relative who he had not seen for two decades.

Both military and government officials said Rauf was a former Guantanamo Bay detainee who was arrested after the fall of the Taliban in the US-led invasion.

“People are saying that he has raised black flags and even has tried to bring down white Taliban flags in some areas,” said Saifullah Sanginwal, a tribal leader in Sangin district. “There are reports that 19 or 20 people have been killed” in fighting between the Taliban and the IS group, he said.

On Saturday, a video emerged online that appeared to show militants in both Afghanistan and Pakistan pledging their allegiance to Isis. Such claims tend to be driven by opportunism, though, and regional analysts told the Associated Press it would be difficult to establish a new extremist outfit in a region where there are already long-established militant groups with tribal links.

Akundzada said: “People who want to fight in Afghanistan just create new names — one day they are wearing white clothes (of the Taliban) and the next day they have black clothes and call themselves [Isis], but they are the same people.”

Additional reporting by the Associated Press

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