Armed men claiming to be Islamic State members have threatened residents of central Ghazni province, Afghanistan, to cease their support for the Taliban and join IS, according to a provincial official.
Khan Elham, chief of the Qara Bagh district of Ghazni province, told VOA that IS members hand-delivered and posted leaflets, warning residents not to support the Taliban.
“The night letters [leaflets] ask people to remove their sons from the ranks of the Taliban and instead send them to join IS,” Elham said. He added that IS threatened residents with severe punishment if they disobeyed.
Amanullah Kamrani, deputy chief of the provincial council, also confirmed IS activities in the province.
“About 20 days ago, men who claimed to be related to IS delivered letters to some areas, and they posted similar warnings last night [Jan. 10], as well.” Kamrani told VOA.
Afghan ministry: No IS in Ghazni
Meanwhile, the Afghan Ministry of Interior Affairs refutes the presence of IS in Ghazni province.
“Based on intelligence and reconnaissance information we have in hand, we do not accept that IS has a presence in Ghazni,” Nasrat Rahimi, a spokesperson for the ministry, told VOA.
Rahimi, however, confirmed that Haqqani network and Taliban insurgents are active in some areas of the province.
Presence in Zabul
An IS presence had been previously confirmed in parts of neighboring Zabul province, particularly the Khak-e-Afghan district. Ghazni provincial officials suspect the terror group might be attempting to find inroads into Ghazni province.
Arif Noori, provincial spokesman, downplayed the threat and charged that groups other than IS are behind the recent leaflets.
“So far, IS does not have any activities in Ghazni, but some other groups are trying to spread fear and terror,” Noori said. He did not specify who the other groups were. “The night letters might be the work of some terrorist groups, but not IS,” he emphasized.
The leaflets have been reportedly dropped in areas under the influence of the Taliban, who have yet to react.
Members of the provincial council urged the Afghan government to take the IS threat in the Ghazni province seriously and take necessary measures against the group’s terrorist activities in the province.
The governor’s office told VOA that several operations are underway to crack down on all militants operating in the province.
IS attacks on the rise
The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for a number of deadly attacks in different parts of Afghanistan in recent months, including the capital of Kabul, sparking fears among Afghans that the terror group might be gaining strength.
Last week, a suicide bomber struck a convoy of the Afghan security forces in Kabul, killing at least 15 people, including security forces. The bomber detonated his explosives shortly after security forces arrived at the scene of a demonstration to control angry protesters. IS claimed responsibility for the attack.
Last month, IS claimed responsibility for a suicide attack inside a Shiite cultural center in Kabul, which killed at least 40 people and wounded more than 90 others.
IS targeted in 2017
American and Afghan military forces had promised to eliminate IS in Afghanistan in 2017.
U.S. and Afghan security forces carried out many joint counterterrorism operations against IS in eastern Afghanistan where the terror group initially emerged in 2015, killing hundreds of IS fighters, including several senior commanders last year.
Despite defeats in eastern Afghanistan and elsewhere by U.S. and Afghan security forces, IS still seems able to carry out deadly attacks.
Afghan officials charge that IS is carrying out desperate attacks in urban areas of Afghanistan to make up for losses in its traditional stronghold of eastern Nanghar province, where the group was crushed by U.S- Afghan operations in 2017.