Pentagon Given New Authority to Target ISIS in Afghanistan

January 21, 2016
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The White House has granted the Pentagon new authority to target ISIS and its affiliates in Afghanistan, a decision that for the first time expands the military’s legal authorization to carry out offensive operations against the group beyond Iraq and Syria.

Until now, the military was authorized to target both Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, but was limited to targeting ISIS fighters there except for in cases of self-defense. The Wall Street Journal, which first reported the news citing senior administration officials, said the authorization came in response to a request by Defense Secretary Ash Carter for additional resources against ISIS’ growing presence in Afghanistan.

While a U.S.-led coalition has been bombing ISIS in Iraq and Syria, the group has steadily accrued branches and affiliates in several countries, from Libya and Egypt to Nigeria and Afghanistan. FRONTLINE’s Najibullah Quraishi traveled into ISIS-held territory in eastern Afghanistan last year, and found fighters who lived among the locals and seemed to control every aspect of village life. They married local women, collected taxes, and even gave children lessons on weapons and jihad. The fighters showed the children propaganda videos prepared by ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

In all, an estimated 3,000 fighters in Afghanistan now fight on behalf of the self-proclaimed Islamic State, according to a senior U.S. commander who spoke to The Wall Street Journal. Its presence has been growing in the eastern province of Kunar, as well as in Nangarhar, where a suicide bombing that ISIS claimed responsibility for killed at least 13 people this month.

The emergence of ISIS has contributed to President Barack Obama’s decision to delay withdrawing the remaining 9,800 U.S. troops from Afghanistan, despite previous plans to reduce the force to around 5,000 by the end of 2015.

Meanwhile, Afghan security forces have suffered a record number of casualties in the last year while fighting the Taliban, even as it’s riven by internal fractures and a leadership crisis. In fact, the Taliban now controls more territory than it has since 2001, according to Foreign Policy. The fighting between government forces and their allied militias on one side, and the Taliban and ISIS on the other, have exacted a heavy toll on civilians, with the death toll for 2015 projected to hit a new high since United Nations records began in 2009.

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