March 10, 2016 —
WASHINGTON (March 10, 2016) — Fighters affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and the
Levant are contained to one district in Afghanistan and the Taliban is
fracturing into separate groups, the deputy chief of staff for communication
for NATO's Resolute Support Mission said.
Army Brig. Gen. Wilson A. Shoffner
briefed the Pentagon press corps via teleconference from Kabul Thursday.
Shoffner said Afghan forces are
keeping pressure on the Taliban and, thanks to new legal authority granted in
January to conduct strikes against ISIL militants in Afghanistan, also on ISIL
fighters in that country.
“[ISIL] is contained in Nangarhar
province and the strikes we're [conducting] continue to have an effect,”
Shoffner said, adding that the effect is a combination of strikes and pressure
by Afghan forces and the Taliban.
The NATO coalition characterizes
ISIL as operationally emergent, meaning they aren’t able to orchestrate
operations in more than one part of the country at a time, Shoffner said.
“We're also not seeing what we
consider command and control by [ISIL] elements in Iraq or Syria orchestrating
operations here in Afghanistan. We’re not seeing a significant amount of
external funding and that's one of the reasons [ISIL] has struggled here,” he
When ISIL tries to generate revenue
streams in Afghanistan, they often muscle in on Taliban activities, Shoffner
said, “whether it's illegal checkpoints or the narco trade or trade in other
Most ISIL activity is confined to
Nangarhar province, the general said, although low-level attempts at propaganda
and recruiting have been seen in more than 20 areas in Afghanistan, none of
which have taken root.
ISIL in Afghanistan
Many ISIL-affiliated fighters are
former Pakistani Taliban who shifted allegiance because of a push by Pakistan
over several years against the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Shoffner
“If you asked me last summer to
categorize [ISIL] in eastern Afghanistan, I would have said there were roughly
six to seven provinces. If you asked me that question two months ago before the
authorities changed, I would have told you it was four to five districts in
Nangarhar province,” he said.
Now, the general said, ISIL is
mainly contained in one district in Nangarhar province, one of 404 districts in
“That doesn't mean that they're not
a strategic threat to Afghanistan … [or] to the region. That doesn't mean we
take them any less seriously,” Shoffner noted.
The ISIL-affiliated fighters are
much more contained in Afghanistan than in Iraq or Syria, the general said,
adding, “We want to keep it that way, that's why it's important to keep the
pressure up on them.”
Spike in Fighting
But the main effort in Afghanistan
is centered on the train, advise and assist mission and helping Afghan security
institutions, Shoffner said.
Afghan forces have seen a spike in
fighting in central Helmand over the past two weeks tied to the poppy harvest,
“The poppy harvest … will start here
in late March. Once the harvest gets underway we expect … a lull in activity.
What we're seeing now is the Taliban positioning itself so they have control
over the roadways, the networks [and] the ways and means they need to get the
poppy crop to harvest. Over half of the Taliban's income comes from poppies,” the
But over the past few months,
infighting has produced new Taliban groups, Shoffner said, “and we see that
manifest itself in Helmand as well.”
In northern Helmand the coalition
has seen the emergence of three separate Taliban groups that don’t seem to be
loyal to Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, “so it will be very
interesting to see where the revenue goes amongst those three groups and where
their loyalties lie,” the general said.
The splintering of the Taliban may
provide opportunities for reconciliation with the Afghan government, or it
could induce some of them to join ISIL, he added.
“We're seeing that more in the east than in
Helmand although we did see some attempts of that in 2015,” Shoffner said. “[ISIL]
did not have a fundamental ideological appeal to them, but it may have appeal
with regard to being able to provide better funding, better weapons and better