Daesh struggling with survival in Afghanistan: NATO official
KABUL (Pajhwok): NATO and US forces spokesman in Afghanistan Brigadier General Charles H. Cleveland has said the Islamic State or Daesh group is now trying to survive instead of expanding its activities.
In an interview with Pajhwok Afghan News, the spokesman said Daesh was more active in Nangarhar and most of the group affiliates were Pakistani militants.
But he said the group’s activities and strength had reduced by a half and they were trying to survive.
After their defeat in Nangarhar, the IS fighters were trying to sneak into neighbouring Kunar province, the NATO official said.
He said the Islamic State’s activities in Kunar were confined to propaganda only because they had no ability to perform other tasks there.
Brig. Gen. Cleveland said as part of the military strategy, operations were first conducted in Nangarhar’s Kot and Haska Mena districts and extended later to Achin district in order the entire province could be cleared of the IS presence.
He said the Islamic State had been greatly weakened in Nangarhar. He said they did not know exactly where from the IS gained support, but most of the group members were previously part of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU).
He said the TTP had ways to get money and weapons and they believed the IS in Afghanistan had ties with the main group in Iraq and Syria.
At the beginning, Daesh strength stood at 3000 gunmen, but now their number had reduced to 1000 or 1500.
Brigadier General Charles H. Cleveland in his message to the people of Nangarhar said the Afghan security forces were on the offense and were aggressively targeting Daesh.
He said US forces were also actively targeting Daesh at every opportunity and the people of Nangarhar should know they were not alone and their government was working to help them.
“No Afghans want Daesh here, it is important the Afghan population is rejecting Daesh,” he said.
About the ongoing Operation Shaffaq, Cleveland said the operation was launched in March and had fairly gone well because the Afghan forces moved from defence to offense.
He said 2015 was a difficult year for the Afghan defence and security forces, but they changed strategy, taking the fight to Taliban and changed leadership and improved use of new capabilities while Taliban plunged into leadership and financial problems.
To a question about the Operation Shaffaq gains and challenges, the NATO and US forces spokesman said the achievements included successfully attacking Taliban in northern Kunduz province and thwarting coordinated attacks in southern Helmand province and clearing several areas of Nangarhar province from militants.
About the challenges, he said, they included casualties, fighting again in Kunduz and parts of Helmand and making sure everyone in the forces was on the same page and to limit the number of casualties.
About problems in the Afghan forces leadership, he said the main problem was experience and it would take some time to educate leaders and make them better.
Cleveland said challenges were at different levels at different times. “A leader may do fine at one level and not great at the next level. Those challenges occur in all militaries, not specific to ANDSF.”
About lack of coordination among Afghan forces in southern Helmand province, he said sometimes coordination was not that good, but not just black and white.
He said the new governor of Helmand, Hayatullah Hayat, was doing a good job. “It takes practice and people working together over and over again.”
About corruption in the Afghan forces, the US forces spokesman said the existence of ghost soldiers was a matter of concern and corruption was also feared in fuel supplies.
He said President Ashraf Ghani had identified corruption a biggest danger to his government and the coalition forces were working with Afghan partners to identify, prosecute and remove those who were corrupt.
About Taliban’s concentration on Helmand, he said, the rebels had said that historically Helmand was their area and their sanctuary and poppy harvest was also important for their financing.
He said the Afghan forces were actively engaged in Marja, Nad Ali district and were successfully defending Lashkargah, the provincial capital, and NATO forces would continue to help the Afghan forces there.
“US will continue to provide support to ANDSF to make sure Taliban doesn’t take over Lashkargah,” he said.
About US President Barack Obama’s new decision to give new authorities and keep troops beyond 2016 in Afghanistan, Brig. Gen. Cleveland they believed both the decisions were important
He said the new authorities had strategic effects and they allowed US support for the Afghans to be able to target enemy.
He said the US would now keep 8,400 troops in Afghanistan beyond 2016 and it was big difference as the US would be able to continue advisors at corps and police zone level into 2017.
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