A senior State Department official said Saturday that the U.S. was concerned about the Islamic State group’s efforts to try to establish a stronghold in Afghanistan.
“It is a newly emerging threat,” the official said in a background briefing on Afghanistan. “It is unpredictable as yet how it might evolve. It is something that we are taking seriously.”
The official commented a day after the United Nations released a report that indicated the militant group was gaining influence in the country.
The report, by the U.N. al-Qaida monitoring team, said the number of individuals and groups who openly declared sympathy with or loyalty to IS had continued to grow in Afghanistan.
The report also said Afghan security forces estimated that about 10 percent of Taliban militants were also Islamic State “sympathizers” and that IS had some form of “branding or sympathy” in about two-thirds of the country’s provinces.
The State Department official said the potential IS threat in Afghanistan was something that the U.S. was factoring into how it engaged with the country and supported Afghanistan’s efforts to improve security and stability.
The official commented after U.S., Afghan and Chinese officials led a high-level meeting Saturday on Afghan development and cooperation.
The meeting, on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, included Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Secretary of State John Kerry.
Kerry said that while al-Qaida remained a threat in Afghanistan, “the presence of Daesh, ISIL, has brought a new and unprecedented element of risk” into an already “volatile environment.” Daesh and ISIL are acronyms for Islamic State.
Later, in a joint statement, the U.S., China and Afghanistan said meeting participants “reiterated support” for the Afghan-led peace process and its efforts to advance reconciliation with the Taliban.
Appeal to Taliban
When Afghan President Ashraf Ghani took office last year, he called on the Taliban and other insurgent groups to join peace talks and end the bloodshed in the country.
However, efforts to negotiate with the Taliban broke down in July when it was revealed that Mullah Omar, the longtime leader of the group, had died two years ago.
Earlier this week, new Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Akthar Mansoor said he would reject peace talks with the government unless it revoked security agreements with the U.S. and NATO and required all foreign forces to withdraw from the country.
NATO’s combat mission in Afghanistan formally ended last year. However, the Afghan government signed agreements with the U.S. and the foreign military coalition for some troops to remain in the country to continue training and advising Afghan forces.