ISIS-K, Afghanistan, fighters surrender (VOA, 2018) [880]

Afghanistan: “The Fight to Eradicate ISIS-K”

US Army General Confirms Afghan Government Will Prosecute ISIS-K Terrorists

Fighters with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria-Khorasan (ISIS-K) terror group being held in Afghanistan will be prosecuted for their crimes, the commander of U.S. Central Command told Pentagon reporters Wednesday, August 8. Among those to be prosecuted is ISIS-K second-in-command Mufti Niamtullah.

US Army Gen. Joseph L. Votel also said ISIS-K is “not reconcilable” and must be eradicated. The group is an offshoot of ISIS operating in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and it has claimed responsibility for terror bombings in both nations.

ISIS-K War Crimes

Some 200 ISIS-K fighters surrendered to Afghan forces. “The government of Afghanistan has assured us these ISIS-K fighters will be treated as war prisoners,” Votel said. The ISIS fighters will be investigated and held to account for any war crimes they were found to have committed, he added.

Army general speaks to reporters.

Army Gen. Joseph L. Votel, commander of U.S. Central Command, confirms surrendered ISIS-K fighters will be prosecuted, Aug. 8, 2018. DoD photo by Air Force Master Sgt. Angelita M. Lawrence

“I want to highlight that the fight to eradicate ISIS-K being conducted by the United States and our Afghan partners continues,” the general said. “We’ve killed numerous ISIS-K fighters this year, and as you may remember, we continued operations against other terrorist organizations like al-Qaida during the recent Eid cease-fire between the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban.”

Mission to Destroy ISIS-K

Votel stressed that the military campaign against ISIS has been continuous and effective, and that it was, in part, responsible for the surrender of the group in the first place.

Forces in Afghanistan are applying military pressure on the Taliban to convince them to enter talks toward reconciliation with the Afghan government, he noted. “We have no illusions about reconciliation with ISIS-K,” Votel said. “Our mission is to destroy this organization.”

The Khorasan group has adapted the mindless violence of ISIS, the Centcom commander told reporters. “ISIS-K is not a popular insurgency in Afghanistan,” he said. “Everybody is against them.”

The bottom line is that the ISIS-K fighters were taken off the battlefield, the general said. “Taking ISIS-K fighters off the battlefield through attrition or surrender will make not only Afghanistan a safer place, but also protects the United States, its partners and allies,” he said.

Votel said he believes the strategy in Afghanistan is about right, but that he expects the incoming commander of forces there, Army Gen. Austin S. Miller, to make “tweaks” to it. Votel said he wants to look at minimizing vulnerabilities to Afghan forces, and especially wants to look at employment of high-end Afghan special operations forces and ensuring those forces are used correctly and not overused.

Votel said the U.S. Army’s purpose-built security forces assistance brigade has been doing well, and that the unit currently in Afghanistan advising Afghan forces is sharing data, intelligence and information with the brigade due to replace it.

ISIS-K Leader Mufti Niamtullah Among Those Who Surrendered

Mufti Niamtullah, an Islamic State terror group commander in northern Afghanistan, is among some 245 militants who surrendered to Afghan government forces last week in the country’s northern Jowzjan province.

His surrender came days after a number of women in Darzab district of the province accused him and his fighters of abducting and raping them.

Zarifa, a resident of Darzab district, told Reuters that an IS commander, allegedly Niamtullah, came to her house demanding money, but when she said she had no money, the commander asked her to go with him and to leave her children and husband behind.

Lutfullah Azizi, governor of Jawzjan province, confirmed to VOA that women were raped in areas under IS control.

“The incidents have happened in Darzab district, in areas controlled by the same IS fighters who surrendered Tuesday. We will launch an investigation once official complaints are filed,” Azizi said.

Samira, a resident of Darzab district, claimed IS fighters took her 14-year-old sister to marry their commander.

“He didn’t marry her, and no one else married her, but he raped her, and his soldiers forced themselves on her. And even the head of the village who is in Daesh’s [IS’s] rank forced himself on my sister and raped her,” Samira told Reuters.

None of the women used their full names because of security reasons and the social stigma associated with rape victims in Afghanistan.

However, an Afghan official in Kabul told VOA that the victims could come forward and file their grievances with the government without fear of retribution.

“We will investigate the rape reports, even if the victims do not report against their rapists, and justice will be served,” Nasrat Rahimi, a spokesperson for the Afghan Ministry Interior, told VOA.

Who is Niamtullah?

Three years ago, Mufti Niamtullah, along with some 220 other IS fighters, surrendered to Afghan government forces led by the first vice president, Abdul Rashid Dostum. However, he later rejoined IS.

On Tuesday, Niamtullah and a group of 245 IS militants, including their families, once again surrendered to Afghan government forces in Jowzjan province.

Niamtullah is allegedly second in command of IS forces in Jowzjan. He is also known as a mufti — a religious cleric with the authority to issue rulings in religious matters.

ISIS-K Using Rape as a War Tactic

IS has used rape as a war tactic in places like Iraq and Syria, and reportedly has kept women as sex slaves. The terror group’s Afghanistan branch, known as IS-K, has rarely been accused of targeting women in the country in the past. A small number of women claimed IS militants had imprisoned them for months in eastern Nangarhar province, where the terror group first emerged in the country in 2015.

The allegations in Jowzjan mark the first time Afghan women have come forward and accused IS fighters of rape.

Many rape and sexual abuse cases have ended with the victim being killed to save the family’s pride, according to the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission.

“The women who are subjected to rape face numerous problems,” the commission said in a recent report. “For instance, honor killing is committed by the relatives or family members in order to save the family’s honor.”

Conflicting claims

Both the Afghan government and the Taliban claim credit for clearing IS from Jowzjan province.

Taliban and IS militants regularly clash over control of territory in both eastern and northern parts of the country.

Source: DoD, VoA

Image: ISIS-K fighters surrender to Afghan forces in northern Jowzjan province (VoA video still).