Islamic State has started cutting down trees in some parts of eastern Afghanistan in a timber-smuggling operation to neighboring Pakistan, according to Afghan officials and tribal leaders.
Locals in the Afghan province say the terror group has imported tree-cutting machines and has been cutting trees in the Achin, Naziyan and Dehbala districts of Nangahar province.
According to local residents, timber-loaded trucks are sent to Pakistan daily. Some of the timber is sold in local markets in Afghanistan.
"Smuggling takes place … in areas alongside the Durand Line," Malak Hashem, a tribal elder in Naziyan, told VOA, referring to the Afghan-Pakistan border.
Tribal leaders say the Afghan government is turning a blind eye to the smuggling.
"The government has done nothing in this regard," Malak Afsar, a tribal elder in Achin, told VOA. He added that timber is transported to market by locals who work as middlemen for IS.
A spokesman for the provincial government said the cutting of trees has not been raised with local government. However, the acting director of Nangarhar's agriculture directorate said he has heard the reports, but says the tree cutting continues only in one district.
"Dehbala is the only district where the tree cutting is still going on, and we are communicating with local elders in the district to stop it," said the director, who goes by the name Engineer Shakir.
Even though tree cutting and timber harvesting is illegal in Afghanistan, timber smuggling has been going on for decades, especially in eastern Kunar province, which borders Nangarhar.
According to Afghanistan's environmental protection agency, forests cover only about 2 percent of the country.
Experts estimate that Afghanistan loses at least 20,000 hectares each year. According to the United Nations Environmental Program, Afghanistan's forest cover has decreased by about 50 percent over the past three decades.
Several militant groups, including the Taliban, have been involved in the illegal timber business, officials say.
Mohammad Rafique, a local resident in Kunar, said timber is smuggled to Peshawar in Pakistan, as well as through Kandahar to Quetta and onward to Karachi and Lahore. Some of the timber is sent to Dubai from Karachi.
Local residents in Kunar say the IS militant group is attempting to establish footprints in the province. It reportedly has been recruiting locals to its ranks.
VOA's Noor Zahid contributed to this report.