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Has the US Turned a Blind Eye to Rise of Daesh in Southern Afghanistan?

© REUTERS / Ali Hashisho / An Islamic State flag hangs amid electric wires over a street.
An Islamic State flag hangs amid electric wires over a street. - Sputnik International
As Afghan forces backed by US troops press Daesh out of eastern Afghanistan, reports are emerging that the terror group has successfully entrenched itself in the south of the troubled country, and has established a training camp near the Pakistani border.

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Afghanistan’s Zabul province has become a refuge for hundreds of extremist group members fleeing Pakistan since the beginning of Islamabad’s crackdown on jihadists last year. As a result, numerous fighters with the Taliban and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, as well as members of Daesh and civilians loyal to the group, have settled in the district of Khak-e-Afghan, local authorities claim.

Khak-e-Afghan has long been a Taliban bastion that Afghani security forces tended to avoid.

With newcomers buying up expensive properties in the area, the implications of resettlement weren’t clear to local authorities. But now, as Daesh has been to said to have established a base in the district, it has become clear that the group is recruiting fighters in the region. According to local law enforcement, Daesh is well-equipped, with cutting-edge communication technologies.

The director of Zabul's provincial council, Atta Mohammad Haqbayan, said that locals are “very poor,” resulting in them being “very easy targets” for wealthy foreigners seeking to recruit them as gunmen.

Meanwhile, Afghan forces supported by Americans are battling Daesh in Nangarhar province. It has become a hotbed for Taliban-turned-Daesh fighters fleeing Pakistan, and has grown to some 1500 members, US General John Nicholson, commander of American and NATO forces in the country, said.

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In July the joint Afghan-American forces launched a major offensive on Daesh in the province, resulting in hundreds of Daesh fighters and dozens of ground commanders, including senior extremist Hafiz Sayed Khan, killed.

Nicholson said that Daesh extremists escaping that offensive have fled to the south of Afghanistan, but has not confirmed if Zabul is their final destination. US officials coordinating anti-Daesh efforts in the country have said that there’s no “substantial” evidence that the jihadists have consolidated their grip on Zabul.

However, locals “have proof [Daesh members] are linked with and are in constant contact with Daesh in Iraq and that they receive funding from them," Haqbayan said.

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"It's time to take control of the situation and get rid of them,” Haqbayan said. “But if the government doesn't pay attention to them, then they will start fighting. And once they start fighting it could prove very difficult for our forces to defeat them."

He claimed that provincial authorities have turned to Kabul for assistance in dealing with violent extremists, but have received an inadequate response.

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