BATI KOT DISTRICT, NANGARHAR, AFGHANISTAN —
The Islamic State group appears to be attracting new followers in yet another country, with Afghan fighters raising the black flag in parts of Afghanistan's Nangarhar province.
Local authorities and civilians in Nangarhar say the Islamic State group has developed a strong presence in six districts of the province, displacing the once-dominant Islamic Emirate of the Taliban.
IS militants here declare their allegiance to the self-styled caliphate of Abubakar al-Baghdadi. They wave the IS banner and behead their enemies. Yet it's not known if they have direct relations with IS.
"They surfaced very quickly, emerging in areas where the Taliban were," said Zabihullah Zamarai, Nangahar provincial council member. "The Taliban have suffered a defeat. They are the Taliban's successors."
The battle for jihadi dominance continues Nangarhar's Bati Kot district. Its governor, Haji Ghalib Mujahid, heavily guarded after the Taliban killed 16 of his relatives last year, described a recent intra-Islamist battle.
"There was a heavy Taliban presence three weeks ago," he said. "IS fought them in an area called Daga, capturing and beheading five Taliban members. The Taliban killed two IS fighters. These people were with the Taliban. They've now raised the black flags of IS. Most of the fighters have joined IS."
IS has gained the allegiance of fighters through higher wages, its insistence on al-Baghdadi as a true, living caliph, and the lure of unbridled power. At an IS meeting in Bati Kot, IS stripped tribal elders of their authority and imposed bans, even on the use of snuff, on its residents.
Public calls for the government to crush this emerging threat are met by authorities' claims the situation is under control.
"We have complete equipment, supplies and personnel," said Mohammad Amin Mangal, Bati Kot district police chief.
An Afghan Local Police outpost in Bati Kot used to come under frequent attacks, police now say the attacks have dropped off as they’ve pushed back the Islamic State and other insurgent groups.