Authorities in Afghanistan have rejected latest Russian claims that thousands of Islamic State fighters are “consolidating” their presence in nine out of 34 provinces of the war-hit country.
Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman, Mohammad Radmanish, at a news conference Wednesday in Kabul, estimated that about 2,000 IS militants operate in four provinces, including Nangarhar, Kunar and Nuristan in the east, with Jowzjan in the north.
Radmanish was speaking a day after the Russian envoy to the U.N., Vasily Nebenzya, reiterated during a Security Council meeting on Afghanistan Moscow’s concerns about IS growing influence particularly in northern provinces that border Central Asian countries.
“This is a group, which has up to 10,000 fighters in its ranks, and it is already active in at least nine out of 34 provinces ... and is constantly consolidating its positions in the north of the country, turning it into a springboard for its expansion into Central Asia,” said Nebenzya, while speaking through his official interpreter.
He went on to assert that IS is creating training camps for the fighters, including those who come from Central Asian states. “These are the facts we cannot shy away from,” said Nebenzya.
IS calls its Afghan branch Khorasan Province, and it routinely carries out suicide bombings against Afghan civilians and military targets around the country, including in capital city Kabul, inflicting hundreds of casualties.
The latest bombing occurred Tuesday, killing at least nine members of the Afghan police force in the western province of Kunar.
IS, through its Amaq News Agency, claimed responsibility for the attack on an Afghan Local Police camp in the Chawkay district, saying the blast killed 13 “militias loyal to the apostate Afghan government.” It also provided a photo of the bomber, according to SITE Intelligence Group.
American military commanders also dismiss Russian claims about the growing IS strength in Afghanistan, saying the campaign is aimed at justifying Moscow’s support to the Taliban insurgency, charges Nebenzya again rejected while speaking on Tuesday.
Senior U.S. State Department diplomat Alice Wells told a Congressional hearing last week that Russia has been “very unhelpful” in international efforts to stabilize Afghanistan.
“We see Russia adopting a posture that the Taliban are a legitimate bulwark against ISIS [IS], and we do not buy that as a justification of engagement with the Taliban,” Wells said.
The U.S. military say its close support to Afghan Special forces in conducting counterterrorism operations have enabled them to significantly degrade IS strength in Nangarhar, Kunar, Nuristan, and Jowzjan, which shares a border with Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.