23 january 2019

Central Asia news

Afghan army suspends its special operation against ISIS militants in north of country

09.01.2018 13:39 msk


Afghan soldiers. Photo from ascent.army.mil website
The army has suspended its large-scale military operation carried out in the northern provinces of Afghanistan against the militants of the so-called "Islamic State" (the banned terrorist organisation) and Taliban, local officials and residents report.

Head of the City Council of Jowzjan Province Babur Ishchi tells Fergana News that the majority of districts in this province remain under the control of ISIS militants. Especially in the areas of Kush-Tapa and Darzab, where they have already established their own rules and issue new decrees every day. They force religious figures to campaign for ISIS five times a day after prayer and call young people into their ranks. In the evenings, ISIS militants come to every mosque and take money from the residents in support of the organisation. "These areas can be called a factory for the production of ISIS fighters," the official says.

In turn, ordinary residents of these two districts report that three weeks ago, ISIS forcibly took away the majority of the elders and about two hundred religious figures and ordered them to live only under the rules of ISIS and convince to support this terrorist organisation in the villages. "We do not know about the fate of our elders and religious figures, who were taken by ISIS. Perhaps the majority of them are no longer alive, and maybe they were given weapons, and they are fighting against Afghan security officials. A couple of days ago, the Afghan National Army with the help of helicopters attacked Darzab and Kush-Tapa, there were casualties among ISIS, but the majority of the dead are our guys, whom the militants took with them by force," says one of the residents of the Kush-Tapa area named Haji Abdul Kadeer.

Hanif Rezai, the employee of the Afghanistan Defence Ministry in the city of Shibergan, backs the reports of the residents of Jowzjan province: "Unfortunately, the residents speak the truth. We learned late that foreign ISIS fighters began to arrive in Jowzjan from the beginning of October and actively engaged in recruiting young people. Now foreign militants are forcing these fellows to fight the Afghan National Army. And, naturally, they perish."

However, General Davlat Vaziri, the official representative of Afghanistan's Ministry of Defence, told our correspondent on 7 January that as a result of the army operation more than 20 ISIS fighters had been killed, most of them foreigners. "We do not know who of these killed people from which country exactly. Our operation in the northern region is still going on," he said.

Meanwhile, several sources among the officers of the Afghan National Army stationed in the north of Afghanistan and wished to remain anonymous, told Fergana News that local young people replenish the ranks of ISIS in Jowzjan, and the army intelligence has accurate data on new well-armed foreign mercenaries arriving from neighbouring provinces.

The situation is different in Kunduz, where, according to the officers of the Afghan National Army operating in the Imam-Sahib district, they had begun a clean-up operation against Taliban militants about a month ago, and many villages and areas were liberated from Taliban but collapsed unexpectedly on the orders of the higher leadership for several days. Now the army officers are waiting for a new command to complete the operation until the end and release the villages from the militants.

Officer Fakir Muhammad tells that the troops were already close to encircling a large group of Taliban fighters in Imam-Sahib. The last village, which was liberated from Taliban on the morning of 5 January, is Kirghiz. "Our positions are in the village of Kirghiz now, and we see Taliban militants with unaided eyes. They are not far from us. But we were ordered to suspend the operation," the officer says.

Haji Niyaz Muhammad, one of the elders of the village of Kirghiz, specifies that the village has been in the hands of Taliban for more than three years, but several days ago the Afghan army entered there. "Of course, during the operation, there were dead and severely wounded among residents, houses were destroyed," he said.

General Abdul Hamid Hamidi, the head of the Kunduz province police, noted that the reason for the suspension of the operation in the villages of the Imam-Sahib district is a military secret, but the operation will resume soon.

In another northern province - Faryab - the army and authorities cannot boast of such successes as in Kunduz. At least, according to the residents, 15 county districts are in the hands of either ISIS or Taliban. Khan-Charbagh resident Amir Muhammad, who served in the ranks of the police a month ago, and now owns a store in the administrative centre of the province - the city of Meymen, tells our correspondent that most of the districts of Faryab province have been in the hands of Taliban for 3-4 years. He adds that ISIS rebels arrive in the province from time to time, and then Taliban fiercely respond to them. According to the source, the Taliban's presence is more useful for the residents than the official authorities, only because they do not allow ISIS militants to settle there and establish their own rules. According to Amir Muhammad, Taliban in most parts of Faryab collect taxes from residents, but people do not mind it because they hope for protection from ISIS.

According to Haji Salahuddin, the elder of the Yusuf Mirzai area, six districts in Faryab province near the border with Turkmenistan are currently under Taliban rule. Taliban militants attacked the block-posts of neighbouring Turkmenistan set by the Turkmen border guards on the Afghan territory several times. After the Taliban attacks, the border guards of a neighbouring country were forced to return to their territory. At the same time in Faryab, Taliban do not allow ISIS to deploy as in Jowzjan. Perhaps that is why it is advantageous for the Afghan security forces not to attack Taliban at the moment, but to use them as a shield against ISIS, the elder believes. "There were situations when the Afghan army and the police supported Taliban when they attacked ISIS," he tells.

Press secretary of the administration of Faryab Ahmad Javid Baydar marks that the authorities are trying not to allow ISIS to the province. "Faryab has a large border with neighbouring Turkmenistan. ISIS' militants are foreigners, and it will not be difficult for them to attack border posts on the territory of Turkmenistan. As for Taliban, they are mostly ours, the Afghans. Now, we are trying to find a common language with them we, and I confess, we want to create a joint force against ISIS," the official tells.

The Faryab administration official told Fergana News about the situation in Meymen. With the onset of the night, and sometimes in the daytime, Taliban calmly move around Meymen on motorcycles. The Taliban judges now decide many disputes between residents. In the city, not to mention the districts and areas, with the onset of darkness, residents close their shops and shops and tightly lock the doors of their homes. In addition to Taliban, ISIS fighters appear on the roads, as well as other illegal armed groups, often consisting of former mujahideen.

"The Afghan police in the provinces of Faryab, Jowzjan, Kunduz and Samangan largely consists of former mujahideen who do not have the experience of police work or legal education. Their monthly salary is $ 180, and, naturally, they cannot provide for themselves and their families with this salary. So they are policemen in uniform in daylight, and they "become" Taliban at night. And no one will figure out who is who, especially in the dark. They have weapons, and support of police chiefs, with whom they naturally share," comments Khatam Rasuli, a former member of the Afghan security forces.

The residents accuse both the Afghan government and local government officials in the present situation in the north of Afghanistan, who, in their opinion, are engaged in their own business.

Fergana News Agency