A joint US and Afghan air raid this week targeting the Islamic State group in Afghanistan killed 25 terrorists, including a Chinese and three Uzbek terrorists, a provincial police chief said Thursday.
The airstrikes, which took place in northern Jowzjan province, were part of a joint operation with the US-led coalition, said the police chief, Faqir Mohammad Jowzjani.
Jowzjani said IS has become prominent in Darzab district, where the airstrikes took place, and also in Kush Tepa district of Jowzjan province.
IS emerged in Afghanistan in 2014, mostly from the ranks of disgruntled Taliban, and in the initial years restricted its activities to the country’s east, mostly Nangarhar province.
However, seeking to expand their footprint, the IS affiliate in Afghanistan, which goes under the name of Khorasan province, stepped up attacks and claimed responsibility for several horrific suicide bombings that targeted Shiite Muslim places of worship in the capital, Kabul, and in western Herat province. The radical Sunni militant group reviles Shiites as heretics.
Analysts who track IS say there are now as many as 5,000 IS fighters in northern Afghanistan, most of them Uzbek nationals, formerly members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan militant group.
Jowzjani, the provincial police chief, said several Uzbek members of IS have settled in the north of Afghanistan with their families. The region is ethnically dominated by Afghan Tajiks and Uzbeks, with enclaves of ethnic Pashtuns and also and ethnic Hazaras. The Pashtuns live mostly in the country’s east and south and the Hazaras dominate swaths of central Afghanistan.
Arkady Dubnov, a Moscow-based expert on Central Asian terrorists, has told The Associated Press that the son of Tahir Yuldashev, the powerful Uzbek leader of the outlawed Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan who was killed in a US missile strike in Pakistan in 2009, was leading efforts to help expand IS influence in Afghanistan, particularly in the north of the country.
Extremists from the Turkic Muslim Uighur ethnic group native to northwestern China’s province of Xinjiang have also been operating in Afghanistan and in the border areas between Pakistan and Afghanistan.