By Ayaz Gul
Afghanistan’s Taliban said Wednesday they have rounded up nearly 600 members of the local Islamic State affiliate, known as Islamic State-Khorasan Province, since returning to power in mid-August.
A spokesman for the General Directorate of Intelligence, the new name of the Afghan spy agency under Islamist Taliban rule, told reporters in Kabul that “high-ranking” commanders of IS-Khorasan were also among the detainees.
“These men linked to Daesh are now being held in jails under tight security,” Kahlil Hamraz told a news conference in Kabul, using a local, derogatory name for IS-Khorasan.
He said ongoing security operations against the group have also killed almost 40 militants.
Hamraz accused the former Afghan government of releasing some 1,800 IS-Khorasan militants along with other criminals from detention facilities just before the Taliban took over Kabul in August. He said the freed prisoners were behind a recent uptick in car bombings and other violent activity in parts of Afghanistan.
IS-Khorasan has claimed responsibility for dozens of attacks across the country, including suicide bombings. The violence has killed and injured hundreds of Afghan civilians and Taliban forces.
The Taliban released details of their purported successes against IS-Khorasan amid growing criticism of their ability to effectively deal with an increasing terrorist threat.
U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Thomas West said this week the rise in IS-Khorasan attacks and al-Qaida’s ongoing presence in the South Asian nation was a matter of deep concern for Washington.
The U.S. envoy, however, told reporters in Brussels on Monday the Taliban were undertaking “a very vigorous effort” against the terror group.
“We condemn the innocent loss of Afghan lives that have taken place in recent weeks at the hands of vicious ISIS-K attacks across the country…I think we’re worried about the uptick in ISIS-K attacks and we want the Taliban to be successful against them,” West said. He used an acronym for Islamic State.
U.S. officials have warned that IS-Khorasan could develop the ability to strike outside Afghanistan within a year and that al-Qaida could do the same within one or two years.
The 2020 U.S.-Taliban deal that ended the two-decade U.S.-led foreign military presence in Afghanistan requires the Islamist group prevent transnational terrorist groups, including al-Qaida, from recruiting, fund-raising, training or planning attacks.
“When it comes to other groups, look, al-Qaida continues to have a presence in Afghanistan that we are very concerned about, and that is an issue of ongoing concern for us in our dialogue with the Taliban,” said West, who assumed office last month.