Video report by ITV News Security Editor Rohit Kachroo
Islamic State’s presence on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border has grown by 20% in a year, despite a major Afghan-US operation to wipe the group out, according to intelligence analysis shared with ITV News.
The United States dropped its most powerful non-nuclear bomb on a cave complex used by ISIS-K, as the Afghan branch is known, in April last year.
The GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast Bomb, nicknamed ‘the mother of all bombs’ because of its size, killed 94 Islamic State fighters in Achin district of the eastern Nangarhar province, according to Afghan officials.
But security sources now say that despite the power of the strike and the continued operation by the Afghan military and US special forces, the organisation has continued to grow.
Last year 1,000 fighters were thought to be fighting with IS in the Nangarhar area.
Now, more than 1,200 militants are fighting for the group as it seeks to establish a so-called caliphate in Afghanistan following the demise of the group in Syria.
In a rare interview obtained by ITV News, an IS commander confirmed that the group is co-operating with ISIS branches in the Middle East to launch attacks in Afghanistan and beyond.
“Our relations are good and we have coordination,” he said.
“Our message to infidels in Afghanistan and all over the world is that the mujahidin of Islamic Caliphate, God willing, will get to their cities and homes and attack them,” he said.
And he claimed that IS in Afghanistan has successfully recruited fighters from the Taliban to carry out attacks in the country: “There are many who were with the Taliban and have now declared allegiance to the Islamic Caliphate,” he said.
IS has claimed responsibility for a string of back-to-back attacks in Afghan cities over the last week, though the group has not provided evidence.
On Sunday, security forces in the eastern city of Jalalabad stormed a government building following a coordinated assault which killed 15 people.
Afghan authorities believe that recent attempts to attack the group’s bases have simply forced fighters into the mountains.
“We fought them and pushed them back closer to the Pakistani side. They go there, they take everything they need and they come back,” said Brigadier General Mohammed Nasim Sangin, the local Afghan army commander.
He confirmed that IS in Afghanistan had recruited some foreign fighters, including Chechens and Syrians.
“Most of them are coming from Pakistan… We listen to the different voices on their radios. We hear Arabic, Pashtu, Urdu, different languages… But most of them are Pakistanis.”
And he had this message for the West: “They are the enemy of humanity. They want to destroy humanity. That’s why they are a threat not just to Afghanistan but to the whole world.”