NANGARHAR, AFGHANISTAN - Provincial officials in eastern Nangarhar province expressed concerns over the dozens of youths in the province recruited by Islamic State (IS).
"I have received reports from districts that unemployment, poverty and IS recruiting efforts have led to youths joining the terror group's ranks," Matiullah Ahmadzai, director of Youth Affairs at Nangarhar Department of Culture and Information told VOA.
He expressed "grave concerns" at the prospects of more youths joining IS and other militant groups if job opportunities are not created in the province.
Habibullah Qadiri, head of youth affairs in the restive Achin district, claimed that dozens of youths have joined the militant group, only from his district. VOA could not independently confirm these numbers.
"During the past two years, lack of government attention led to one hundred youth joining IS ranks. They don't have access to schools or Madrasas [religious schools] and they are unemployed." Qadiri added.
Government officials denied the claims and called it "unrealistic".
"The news about dozens of youths joining IS ranks is not true. Youths, especially in Achin district, are supporting Afghan security forces due to government awareness programs," Attaullah Khogyani, a Nangarhar governor spokesperson told VOA.
Exact official statistics for employment rate in the province are not available, however, according to Afghan government figure, the unemployment rate in the county lies between 30 and 40 percent.
Experts say that unemployment is a strong tool for militant groups to recruit youths to their ranks.
Unemployed youths are unwillingly joining these groups in order to make a livelihood for their families," Taj Mohammad Akbar, Kabul University professor told VOA.
"To prevent youths recruitment [by militants groups] the government of Afghanistan should either create employment opportunities or cut down the cost of living," he added.
Provincial council officials in eastern Nangarhar affirm that IS militants have been attempting to recruit more locals after being defeated on the battlefield.
Officials say that they shared the concerns regarding IS recruitment.
"It [the youths' recruitment] would turn into a bigger problem if the government does not prevent it," Nasir Kamawal, member of Nangarhar provincial council told VOA.
Reports about IS recruitment in eastern Nangarhar province emerge amid similar claims of the militant group in neighboring Kunar province.
Provincial council officials in eastern Kunar province claim IS has not achieved any success on the battlefield, but the militant group may continue to try to recruit local residents in some remote areas.
"IS might continuously recruit more locals in some remote areas and I can confirm that the militants are operating in various remote areas of the [Kunar] province," Mohammad Sapai, Kunar province council member told VOA.
Afghan officials previously claimed IS has been defeated in its traditional rural stronghold Nangarhar province.
"IS leadership was in Nangarhar, they had command centers and prisons in Achin, Kot and Khogyani districts that were destroyed during multiple Afghan forces operations," Mohammad Gulab Mangal, Nangarhar province governor told VOA.
Officials in neighboring Kunar province also say the terror group at best is weakened.
"Although IS militants operate in five districts, fortunately, during the past two years, the militants failed to pose a serious threat in Kunar province," Wahidullah Kalemzai, Kunar province governor told VOA.
The Islamic State terror group emerged in early 2015 in the mountainous areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan and initially was based in southern parts of eastern Nangarhar province.
As the Islamic State terror group is trying to expand from its traditional enclave of eastern Afghanistan to other parts of the county, it faces a crackdown by Afghan and U.S.-led coalition forces.
Ziaurrahman Hasrat and Zabihullah Ghazi contributed to this report