After ‘caliphate’ collapse, extremists head to Afghanistan to plot attacks

A recent UN report said Daesh in Afghanistan has between 2,500 and 4,000 members. (File/AFP)
Updated 30 April 2019

After ‘caliphate’ collapse, extremists head to Afghanistan to plot attacks

  • The warning comes as Daesh seeks to assert a regional influence after the loss of its self-proclaimed Middle East “caliphate”
  • Daesh in the Khorasan, or IS-K as the local affiliate is known, had grown in both numbers and capabilities

KABUL: Daesh fighters who waged a bloody campaign in Syria and Iraq are heading to Afghanistan to continue their battle and help plot “spectacular” attacks against America, a US official has told AFP.
The warning comes as Daesh seeks to assert a regional influence after the loss of its self-proclaimed Middle East “caliphate,” and as South Asia reels from a series of devastating attacks.
“We know some have already made their way back here and are trying to transfer the knowledge, skills and experience they learned over there,” a senior US intelligence official in Kabul told AFP in a recent interview.
“If we don’t continue counterterrorism pressure against (Daesh in Afghanistan), there will be an attack in our homeland — and a spectacular attack — probably within the year,” added the official, who asked not to be named for security reasons.
The official did not describe the nature of any plot, but Daesh has been linked to or inspired several big attacks in America, including a 2016 mass shooting in Florida.
The gunman, who had sworn allegiance to Daesh, killed 49 people in an Orlando nightclub.
A recent UN report said Daesh in Afghanistan has between 2,500 and 4,000 members — about the same number the Pentagon was citing two years ago, even though officials say thousands of extremists have been killed.
US Senator Jack Reed, the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said after a recent visit to Afghanistan that Daesh in the Khorasan, or IS-K as the local affiliate is known, had grown in both numbers and capabilities.
In 2017, the Pentagon offered a rosy assessment that IS-K could be wiped out by the end of that year. But Resolute Support, the NATO mission in Afghanistan, underestimated the group’s tenacity.
“Resolute Support realized that this was bigger than a little problem in southern Nangarhar and instead would take something more to address it,” the official said, referring to IS-K’s bastion in eastern Afghanistan.
The official and a team of experts arrived in Kabul over the past year to help General Scott Miller — the four-star general in charge of US and NATO forces — tackle IS-K.
He did not say how many former “caliphate” fighters are in Afghanistan, but argued “any number is significant.”
Europeans — including from Britain and France — are among those who have joined IS-K, he added.
Their presence could complicate any peace deal with the Taliban, who have pledged to prevent terrorists using Afghanistan as a haven to plot foreign attacks.
“Unless or until we get the Taliban to work and address this problem as well, they will never be able to keep this land free from outwardly facing organizations,” the official said.
The US has led an unrelenting air campaign, including famously dropping the so-called Mother Of All Bombs (MOAB), the Pentagon’s largest non-nuclear bomb, to smash extremist tunnels and bunkers.
But the well-funded group has replenished its ranks with foreign fighters and local recruits looking for a decent wage.
IS-K has suffered losses in the northern Jowzjan province but maintains strongholds in Nangarhar and Kunar in the east, where they have beaten back Taliban forces and displaced thousands of locals.
Internationally, Daesh claimed responsibility for a string of recent attacks, including the Easter Sunday bombings that killed 253 people in churches and hotels in Sri Lanka.
On Monday, the extremists’ elusive leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi apparently resurfaced in a propaganda video, his first purported appearance since 2014.
IS-K conducted six high-profile attacks in Kabul in 2016, according to the US. In 2017 that number grew to 18, and last year there were 24. On April 20, Daesh claimed a suicide attack on a government ministry.
Some Afghan officials question whether Daesh always oversees such assaults, or if the Taliban and Pakistan groups such as the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Haqqani network are responsible.
“These attacks are carried out mostly by these Afghan and Pakistani groups, while the credit goes to Daesh who is ready to jump and claim it,” an Afghan security official told AFP, using the Arabic name for Daesh.

Disillusioned Taliban insurgents sometimes switch to IS-K over spats or for ideological reasons, viewing the Taliban as not austere enough in their interpretation of Islam.
Tech-savvy recruiters track and groom potential extremists through social media and in Kabul’s universities, where middle-class and upwardly mobile students are sometimes targeted.
They are “looking for men who ... have been taught at schools paid for by this coalition. That’s a little aggravating,” the official said.
Thomas Joscelyn, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and editor of its Long War Journal, said that while the US military had failed to beat IS-K, it “probably stymied their growth and disrupted their operations at times.”
“But it hasn’t taken them out of the game,” he told AFP.


IAEA urges Iran to explain uranium particles at undeclared site

Updated 21 November 2019

IAEA urges Iran to explain uranium particles at undeclared site

  • IAEA said in a report last week that its inspectors had "detected natural uranium particles of anthropogenic origin at a location in Iran

VIENNA: The UN nuclear watchdog on Thursday urged Iran to explain the presence of uranium particles at an undeclared site, as a landmark deal aimed at curbing Tehran's atomic activities threatens to collapse.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in a report made public last week that its inspectors had "detected natural uranium particles of anthropogenic origin at a location in Iran not declared to the agency".
The agency's acting head Cornel Feruta said IAEA and Iranian officials would meet in Tehran next week to discuss the matter, adding that the UN body had not received any additional information.
"The matter remains unresolved... It is essential that Iran works with the agency to resolve this matter promptly," he told IAEA member states at a meeting of the agency's board of governors.
A diplomatic source told AFP that the IAEA would send a high-ranking technical delegation to Iran next week.
The particles are understood to be the product of uranium which has been mined and undergone initial processing, but not enriched.
While the IAEA has not named the site in question, diplomatic sources have previously said the agency asked Iran about a site in the Turquzabad district of Tehran where Israel has alleged secret atomic activity in the past.
Sources say the IAEA took samples from the site in the spring and that Iran has been slow in providing answers to explain the test results.
The 2015 deal between Iran and world powers has been faltering since last year when the United States pulled out and started to reinstate punishing sanctions on Tehran, leaving the other signatories struggling to salvage the agreement.
Over the past few months, Iran has breached several parts of the deal it signed with the US as well as Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia, in which it committed to scaling back its nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief.
But Britain, France and Germany have said they are extremely concerned by Iran's actions in stepping up its uranium enrichment and other breaches.
Enrichment is the process that produces fuel for nuclear power plants but also, in highly extended form, the fissile core for a warhead.
On Monday, the IAEA confirmed Iran's stock of heavy water for reactors has surpassed the 130-tonne limit set under the agreement.
Heavy water is not itself radioactive but is used in nuclear reactors to absorb neutrons from nuclear fission.
Heavy water reactors can be used to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons as an alternative to enriched uranium.
The IAEA has also said one of its inspectors was briefly prevented from leaving Iran, calling her treatment "not acceptable".
Iran has cancelled the inspector's accreditation, saying she triggered a security check at the entrance gate to the Natanz enrichment plant last month.
The IAEA has disputed the Iranian account of the incident, without going into details.