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As The Islamic State Seeks Foothold In Afghanistan, Should The US Rethink Withdrawal Plans?

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The Islamic State is “gaining adherents” in Afghanistan, a U.S. official told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

The group is trying to get a foothold in South Asia, but setting up shop remains challenging since the Islamic State has mainly operated in Middle Eastern countries with first-world infrastructure, like Iraq and Syria.

Afghanistan has poor Internet access, so the Islamic State has had to rely on more traditional forms of recruitment, says a U.S. official. Militants have used person-to-person contact and hard copy manifestos. The successes of the Islamic State brand has made it attractive to disaffected members of the Taliban, according to The New York Times.

This comes as U.S. troops prepare to withdraw by the end of 2016, although the process could be slowed, according to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in a joint appearance in February.

While there’s no evidence directly linking the U.S. withdrawal to increased IS conversion of Taliban splinter groups, Chairman of the Joints Chiefs Army Gen. Martin Dempsey said in a hearing Wednesday that those groups would “initially pose a threat to the government of Afghanistan, and could over time pose a threat to [the U.S. military there].”

U.K. defense reporter Kim Sengupta sounded a whole lot more shrill, writing Tuesday, “the spread of Isis into south Asia has major ramifications.” Including, he noted, Pakistan’s loss of influence, which extends to committed Talibs, but stops dead at IS factions — exemplified no better than videos which recently surfaced showing IS militants beheading Pakistani soldiers.

Sengupta also concluded that IS aspirations (indeed, the DoD describes their presence almost dismissively as “aspirational and nascent”) extend to the lucrative narcotics trade in Afghanistan. Their oil revenue is dwindling due to American airstrikes, and drugs represent a whole new money-making venture.

But it’s hard to believe Washington would actually allow Afghanistan to become another Iraq.

Currently, there are 10,600 U.S. troops there, and about half are expected to withdraw by the end of the year. Only a small force is scheduled to remain around the U.S. Embassy in Kabul by the time President Obama leaves office.

A former Guantanamo detainee and member of the Taliban, turned-Islamic State recruiter, was killed by a U.S. drone strike in Afghanistan’s southern Helmand province in early February. Mullah Abdul Rauf Khadim’s death was the first known drone strike against an Islamic State militant in Afghanistan, as reported by The Hill.

Khadim captured in 2001 and detained at Guantanamo Bay, only to be released into Afghan custody in 2007 and later freed, according to The Long War Journal. He was a top commander under Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar but broke off from the organization last year and joined the Islamic State early this year

South Asia represents vital recruiting ground for the Islamic State as the historical center of worldwide jihad. It’s an area the group can’t ignore as it seeks supremacy over competing organizations, according to the U.S. official.

The Islamic State has every intention of challenging Al Qaeda and Taliban leader, Mullah Omar – who supporters say is the counter caliph to Islamic State leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Although the Islamic State faces obstacles in any recruitment efforts in Afghanistan, an area outside its ordinary sphere of influence, Al Qaeda was also foreign to Afghanistan, brought to the country by Arabs who were fighting the Soviets in the 1980s.

“There’s a track record of foreign fighters coming to Afghanistan and making the fight their own,” said Michael Rubin, an expert at the American Enterprise Institute.

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