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Fantastic documentary from Al Jazeera on the growing ISIS forces in Afghanistan.
ISIS is mostly in Nangarhar, Kunar and Nuristan. These are very rugged areas in the northeast where some of the most radical Taliban elements stay.
In addition, this area was very popular with high ranking Al Qaeda types. A video of Osama bin Laden and Ayman Zawahiri walking down a rocky mountain slope was probably shot in Kunar, and Tora Bora, where bin Laden made his escape, is in Nangarhar.
Nuristan was originally called Kafirstan, as it was pagan until Muslim invaders converted the area in the 1890’s. For some reason these relatively new converts to Islam became some of the most fundamentalist Muslims in the country.
Many small Indo-Iranian languages are spoken here that are pretty far from either Pashto, Persian or Urdu/Hindi. A lot of these people look very white – these are some of the Whitest people in Afghanistan. The very interesting Kalash people reside right across the border in Pakistan near Chitral.
The area is especially rugged – especially Nuristan and Kunar – and is more or less impenetrable. Nuristan is very steep, and the uniquely styled houses are cut right into the hillside in what looks like terraced villages. Many areas are only accessible by helicopter or on foot, as there it is not even passable by jeep, and there are only footpaths. Further, many of the bridges in Nuristan are only footbridges, and no vehicle can cross them. Many of the few US missions in Nuristan operated by dropping the troops in by helicopter. US forces took relatively heavy losses in this area. I believe there was a US base there which was nearly overrun by the Taliban.
The few Afghan government outposts were quickly abandoned, and the state has little or no presence in the area. I believe that for a time in the last decade, Nuristan even lacked a governor. Successive governors were appointed ,but the Taliban kept threatening them, and they would quit.
It is here where ISIS has chosen to set up its new home in Afghanistan. My understanding is that they have been able to recruit quite a few former Taliban into their ranks, and in addition, many new fighters have come from the Pakistani Taliban across the border, some of whose factions have already declared allegiance to ISIL.
ISIS and the Taliban are fighting in this area, as ISIS generally says that they are the only rebel army that can exist in any area, and they try force all competitors to either pledge allegiance to ISIS or be destroyed by ISIS’ army.
I fear that ISIS has quite a few fighters in Afghanistan (I believe over 1,000 at the very least and possibly thousands). The future will probably see more and more Afghan fighters pledging allegiance to ISIS and joining their side, but for the moment, their largest presence is in the northeast.