NANGARHAR, AFGHANISTAN/WASHINGTON —
After being knocked off the air by government airstrikes, so-called Islamic State group (IS) has restarted radio broadcasts into a restive area of Afghanistan.
The radio channel, which broadcasts from a remote mobile transmitter in the mountains along the Pakistan border, has returned with new programming to its lineup. It can now be heard in the Arabic and Punjabi languages besides its former programs in Pashto and Dari, the two official languages of Afghanistan. The programs encourage people to join IS and air religious chanting.
The IS-run FM station, “Voice of the Caliphate,” started programming last year, terrorizing locals with threats and IS propaganda.
In February, Afghan authorities said airstrikes, conducted with the support of the United States, destroyed the IS transmitting site along with its Internet communications and other facilities.
The governor of Achin district in Nangarhar, Haji Ghaleb Mujahed, confirmed to VOA that IS broadcasts are airing daily for one hour in the morning and one-and-a-half-hours in the evening. The broadcasts can be heard in the Dehbala, Ghanikhail and Achin districts in the province.
Residents say they are alarmed.
“The radio programs are anti-government, anti-people and have a very bad impact,” said one listener, Ubaidullah, who, like many Afghans, uses a first name only.
It is not clear what the Afghan government will do next. The provincial director of information and culture told VOA that the Afghan communications and technology department is responsible for looking into the matter.
And despite reports from listeners, Attaullah Khogyani, a spokesperson for the Nangarhar governor, told VOA the government has no knowledge of the broadcasts.
“We are not aware that this (radio) is back,” he said. “The radio has been shut down and does not exist.”
“If the radio has started broadcasts, it will be taken off air soon,” he said
Analysts say IS is taking a new propaganda-based tactic to help it recruit more people.
“It is a logical step from Daesh right now to put more energy into those kinds of outreach efforts,” Rebecca Zimmerman, a Rand Corporation military policy analyst, told VOA, using an acronym for the jihadist group.
IS has established a footprint in some parts of Nangarhar province, where its fighters have launched multiple attacks on Afghan security checkpoints. The Afghan government has said it is making gains against IS in Nangarhar.
Government and NATO forces recently launched offensives against IS and some areas have been cleared of IS fighters.