Fighters loyal to ISIS have seized substantial territory in Afghanistan, according to an ominous Reuters report from June 29.
Witnesses who fled fighting in Nangarhar province told reporters that hundreds of ISIS fighters in convoys of pick-up trucks mounted with machine guns seized several villages—and put local opium fields to the torch.
“They burned poppy fields in Shadal village and banned shops from selling cigarettes,” tribal elder Malek Jan said.
Taxing opium production is a key sources of Taliban revenue, but Reuters reported that ISIS loyalists in Nangarhar appeared to have other sources of money. Witnesses said they had plenty of cash. It is unclear where the money is coming from, but it allows ISIS to stigmatize the Taliban as soft on drugs.
Regardless, the Taliban is talking tough against these upstarts.
“They are thieves and thugs,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said. “We will soon clear those areas and free the villagers.”
But Jan said some villagers welcomed ISIS.
“Unlike the Taliban, they [ISIS] don’t force villagers to feed and house them,” Jan explained. “Instead, they have lots of cash in their pockets and spend it on food and luring young villagers to join them.”
The U.S. has taken note of the growing ISIS presence in Afghanistan. Reuters reported on June 28 that the U.S. had carried out air-strikes on unnamed “militants” in the Nuristan and Paktika provinces. Paktika was named as a stronghold of the Taliban-aligned Haqqani network. But the report also noted that “support for ISIS…has spread and the group is expanding its contingent of foreign fighters and disenchanted Taliban militants.”