We suppose this might be placed in the “Whoda Thunk?” Department…
(CNSNews.com) – Days before Afghan leaders are due to hold talks with senior administration officials on military and economic assistance issues, the country’s defense ministry on Thursday confirmed that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL/Daesh) has established a presence in Afghanistan, although it played down the seriousness of the threat.
“We do not deny the presence of Daesh in Afghanistan,” the Tolo news agency quoted deputy ministry spokesman Dawlat Waziri as saying, adding that the extent of that presence had been exaggerated.
“I believe that Daesh has failed in Afghanistan and will not become a major threat for the country,” he said.
Waziri was speaking several days after U.N. officials raised concerns about the ISIS infiltration into the country, where Afghan forces supported by a diminished U.S. troop presence continue to fight a Taliban insurgency.
UNAMA head Nicholas Haysom told the U.N. Security Council on Monday that although ISIS had yet to establish “firm roots” in the country, it was positioned “to offer an alternative flagpole to which otherwise isolated insurgent splinter groups can rally.”
In a report to the Security Council, U.N. secretary-general Ban Ki-moon said “a handful of Afghan and Pakistani Taliban commanders” had pledged fealty to ISIS, “and an increasing number of commanders are reportedly seeking funding from and considering cooperation.”
But, he added, “there is no indication of widespread or systematic support” for the jihadist group in the country.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki on Wednesday characterized the ISIS presence as “fledgling,” and said the administration believes that it “represents a rebranding of a few marginalized Taliban.”
“But we’re still taking this potential threat with its dangerous rhetoric seriously,” she told a briefing. “We’re working closely with the Afghan government to evaluate the dynamic nature of this fledgling network.”
On Monday, Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Ashton Carter are due to host Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah at Camp David, Maryland.
In line with President Obama’s amended timeline for the U.S. military drawdown, there are currently around 10,600 U.S. troops in the country. The number is due to drop by around half by year’s end, with all troops out by the end of 2016, apart from a “security assistance component” attached to the U.S. Embassy.
Ghani has been requesting a slowing down in the drawdown plans, and Psaki indicated that would be on the agenda at Camp David.
U.S. Forces Afghanistan commander Army Gen. John Campbell, who also heads the post-2014 training and support mission known as Operation Resolute Support, has put forward proposals in that regard, and Psaki said any decisions would be for the president to make.
Campbell told the U.S. House Armed Services Committee two weeks ago that there was evidence of ISIS recruiting efforts in Afghanistan. Some Taliban members had rebranded themselves as ISIS, he added.
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