Afghans raise concerns over increasing IS activity in major cities

By Omar

Women walk past the site of a blast at the Sardar Daud Khan military hospital in Kabul on November 3, 2021, a day after an attack claimed by the 'Islamic State' (IS) killed at least 19 people. [Wakil Kohsar/AFP]

Women walk past the site of a blast at the Sardar Daud Khan military hospital in Kabul on November 3, 2021, a day after an attack claimed by the 'Islamic State' (IS) killed at least 19 people. [Wakil Kohsar/AFP]

HERAT, Afghanistan -- Recent military operations on the hideouts of "Islamic State" (IS) elements in Afghan cities, including the capital Kabul, have raised serious concerns about the presence and activities of the terrorist group.

On January 5, three IS members, including a key commander, were killed in a military operation in Dara-i-Nur district, Nangarhar province.

Authorities also killed at least seven militants affiliated with IS and arrested seven IS suspects during an operation carried out January 4 in Kabul's 8th district.

The same day, two suspected IS elements were arrested in Zaranj, the provincial capital of Nimroz.

The recent incidents confirm the presence of IS militants in various cities across the country, say Afghans.

Khair Mohammad Patang, 43, who lives in Kabul's 8th district, said he was surprised when he learned about an IS hideout in his neighbourhood and is very worried about his and his family's safety.

"A military operation was carried out on the hideout of IS near our house. The situation was very terrible, and after a few days, the terror is still overshadowing our daily life. Everyone has been very worried since then," he said.

"It had been a while since we had last heard explosions and gunfire. It seems that the relatively peaceful environment that we had no longer exists."

"The presence and activity of IS militants near our house are really terrifying. IS has many hideouts in Kabul city, and I am worried it'll plan suicide attacks or detonate bombs at any moment," Patang said.

Jawad Mohseni, 25, who lives in the Dasht-e-Barchi area of Kabul city, said IS attacks have disrupted peace and daily life in his neighbourhood in the past few months.

"We fear going to the market or the mosque, going to school or the university, or to attending classes for fear of IS's imminent attacks. Everyone is afraid of becoming a victim of IS attacks," he said.

"Dozens of families from our neighbourhood have migrated to neighbouring countries in recent months for fear of IS. Concern about IS's widespread presence is increasing day by day," he added.

The presence of IS hideouts in Kabul shows that the city is in danger, said Mohseni.

Concerns about more bloody attacks

IS attacks have increased across Afghanistan since about a year and a half ago.

According to the SITE Intelligence Group, which follows the activities of terrorist networks, the Khorasan branch of IS (IS-K) carried out 224 terrorist attacks in Afghanistan between August 2021 and August 2022.

Dozens of civilians, including religious scholars, have been killed.

The rise in attacks and the presence of IS in some cities have caused serious concern among the Afghan population.

IS militants have expanded their operations in different cities, and he is worried about the group's terrorist attacks on public spaces and the massacre of innocent civilians, Gul Ahmad Azizi, 32, a resident of Zaranj, Nimroz province, said.

"I never thought IS would have a footprint in Nimroz. But now that [authorities] have arrested members loyal to the group in Zaranj city, I am very worried. IS threats cannot be ignored."

Afghanistan lacks the powerful military needed to destroy the terrorist group, he added.

"Some big cities like Kabul are witnessing explosions and suicides as they did in the past. Previously, terrorist groups were afraid of the air strikes carried out by international and local Afghan forces. But now they can operate freely and establish bases in the cities," he said.

IS threatens the lives of all Afghans, and if its disruptive activities are not stopped, even more innocent civilians will fall victim to explosions and suicide attacks, said Azizi.

An increase in IS's bloody attacks indicates that a dark future awaits Afghans, Safiullah Poya, 26, a resident of Herat city, said.

"No one is safe from IS attacks. IS indiscriminately attacks any place, including markets, mosques, schools, hospitals and education centres. IS militants are determined to massacre innocent Afghans wherever they can," he said.

"With the withdrawal of international troops and the collapse of the previous Afghan military forces, IS has become bolder and has expanded its activities across the country."

"Taking advantage of the current vacuum, IS launches attacks and targets local civilians wherever it wishes," he added.

IS violence is one of the many daily concerns of the Afghan people, in addition to poverty and unemployment, according to Poya.

A threat to the global community

IS will become a serious threat to world security if it forges alliances with other terrorist groups and expands its activities in Afghanistan, according to observers.

IS-K has become very strong over the past year and is trying to recruit more men, said military analyst Mohammad Naim Ghayur.

"Many local commanders of IS in Afghanistan receive steadfast support from its leadership, whose members live in Iraq and Syria. Now that IS has become very focused in Afghanistan, the leadership sees the conditions as very suitable to expand the group's activities across the country," he said.

"The purpose of IS is not only to carry out terrorist attacks or to assassinate local civilians but to try to control more territory in Afghanistan. As more districts fall into its hands, IS will establish more hideouts and expand its presence across the country," Ghayur said.

If IS terrorist activities are not stopped in Afghanistan, they will endanger not just Afghan but also global security, he added.

Containing and dismantling IS-K require a global coalition, said Zamari Shindandwal, 65, a former Afghan military officer in Herat city.

"IS is present and active almost all over Afghanistan. The group has become so powerful that Afghans alone cannot eliminate it. It has brought in a large number of militants from neighbouring countries and the region to Afghanistan, and has secure hideouts in the country," he said.

"Most IS hideouts are located in mountainous and remote areas. A strong air force is needed to target these hideouts. Currently, there is no air force in Afghanistan, and IS makes good use of this opportunity," he said.

The time has come for the world to realise the danger of IS's presence in Afghanistan and act decisively against it before it is too late, Shindandwal said.

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