They travel by sea to Pakistan and then north to the northern Afghan border, aiming to infiltrate the republics of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
Sources in Russian military and intelligence agencies actually warn that the preparation of a full-scale offensive operation against Russia through Tajikistan and Uzbekistan is in its final phase.
Citing data from closed communication channels of the defense ministries of China, Pakistan and Afghanistan, they say that Afghanistan acts as the cornerstone of this plan.
Similar messages have been received earlier, and this matter in particular was mentioned at a recent security conference held in the Uzbek capital Tashkent. At the meeting, the Tajik Foreign Minister Sirodzhiddin Aslov reported of terrorist movements in the region:
“We see the activation of terrorist groups, their advancement to the northern regions of Afghanistan, especially in the territories bordering with Tajikistan, the increase in the number of ISIS supporters, and the participation of a certain number of citizens of the post-Soviet republics in the terrorist groups and movements present in Afghanistan … this is of utmost concern to us.”
According to Russian intelligence agencies, the number of ISIS terrorists operating in Afghanistan ranges from 2 500 to 4 000 trained individuals. This information has been confirmed by the Ministry of Defense of China.
PRC sources say that there are currently at least 3 800 militants operating in 160 mobile terrorist cells. They are concentrated in the province of Nangarhar on the border with Pakistan where ISIS has been increasing drug production and trafficking, as well as creating infrastructure for the training of militants and suicide bombers.
Two routes through Afghanistan
According to Russian military sources, terrorists have been retreating from Syria and Iraq by sea to the port of Karachi in Southern Pakistan. After that, they make their journey to Peshawar near the Afghan border and settle in Nangarhar province (see map, orange marking). The new HQ of ISIS in the region, is situated in Achin district.
Starting from late 2017, terrorists managed to bring in some 500 militants from Syria and Iraq including several dozens of women. Sources say most of them are citizens of France, Sudan, Kazakhstan, the Czech Republic, and Uzbekistan.
The main objective of ISIS in Afghanistan is not only destabilizing the country, but a full-scale invasion of post-soviet Central Asian Republics – Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan – in order to heighten tension at Russia’s southern border.
Russian intelligence sources have pinpointed two routes for an upcoming ISIS offensive. One will lead to Tajikistan through Nuristan and Badakhshan provinces, while the other will go through Farah, Ghor, Sar-e Pol and Faryab to Turkmenistan.
Safe haven in Nangarhar province
Intelligence sources single out one man in particular as responsible for the growing ISIS presence in the area: the governor of Nangarhar province, Mohammad Gulab Mangal. He is using the radicals’ infrastructure to enhance his influence in neighbouring regions.
Moreover, Mangal is well-known for taking part in ISIS’ financial operations. Sources say that any attempt at protest by local populations is violently suppressed by authorities, including punitive operations against civilian populations.
Mangal is said to be connected to US special forces and his contacts were established quite some time ago. The Wikipedia page about him states that he took part in the war against Soviet troops back in the 1980s. Right after the US invasion in 2001, he was appointed as head of the local authority.
Western media portray him as an efficient and fair statesman, and the BBC even called Mangal the “New hope for Helmand” – a province he used to govern.
According to the Afghan MoD, ISIS is planning to expand its headcount to 5 000 troops, settling most of them in Mangals’ province.