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Most Daesh fighters in Afghanistan are TTP men: top US commander

By News Desk
August 02, 2016

ISLAMABAD: Top US commander General John W Nicholson has said almost 70 per cent of Daesh or Islamic State (IS) fighters in Afghanistan are Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) men.

Nicholson said a "significant proportion, a majority of fighters" with IS in Afghanistan come from Pakistan's Orokzai agency, over the border from Nangarhar, and are former members of the TTP. The general was briefing Washington-based journalists at the Pentagon, Virginia, the other day, media reports said.

Nicholson, who commands the US and Nato forces in Afghanistan, said many of the fighters were Pakistani Pashtun from Orakzai Agency and had been forced out of Pakistan by the ongoing military offensive, Operation Zarb-e-Azb.

“In the case of the IS fighters in southern Nangahar, we see that many of them come from the Orakzai Agency, which is south of Nangahar — actually, south of the Khyber Agency. And they were former members of the TTP, complete with their leadership, who wholesale joined Islamic State, pledged baya (allegiance) to Islamic State and joined them earlier this year,” General Nicholson said. 

The commander went on to say that President Obama had identified Daesh as one of the top security threats to US. Speaking about US and Afghan joint offensive against the militant group, he said, “Since January, their area has shrunk to about three or four districts — parts of three or four districts in southern Nangarhar.”

According to Gen Nicholson, Saturday’s suicide attack in Kabul, which killed upwards of 80 people who were participating in a peaceful demonstration, was carried out by IS. The US commander identified IS as only one of nine US designated terrorist organisations in Afghanistan. “Additionally there are three other violent extremist organisations.” The general also gave a rough count of IS fighters in the country. “This number that originally was 3,000, we think has been roughly cut in half.  We estimate them between — now between 1,000 and 1,500 at the present time.”

"We see them frankly as almost interchangeable at this point," Nicholson said, noting that US counter-terrorism forces last month killed a senior TTP leader, Khalifa Umar Mansoor, who allegedly masterminded a 2014 attack on a school in Peshawar in which some 150 people, mostly children, were killed. That strike came after a U.S drone strike in May killed the leader of the Taliban, Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, also in Pakistan.

"This is a demonstration of our commitment against these terrorists no matter where they commit their atrocities on either side of the border," Nicholson said.

Addressing concerns that the Pakistan authorities were giving sanctuary to Islamic State operatives — as they are widely accused by Afghanistan of giving Taliban leaders, though the accusation is denied — Nicholson said that he had raised the issue of the group's cross-border presence with Pakistan's chief of army staff Gen. Raheel Sharif. Sharif had committed to join the United States and Afghanistan to defeat the Islamic State group, Nicholson said.

"There is an ongoing operation on the Pakistan side of the border to move in to the valleys opposite the enclave that they have there. This is something the Pakistanis have committed to, to continue these operations," Nicholson said.