French fighters appear with IS in Afghanistan, set up base

French and Algerian fighters, some arriving from Syria, have joined the ranks of the IS group in northern Afghanistan where the militants have established new bases, multiple international and Afghan sources have said.
It is the first time that the presence of French IS fighters has been recorded in Afghanistan, and comes as analysts suggested foreigners may be heading for the war-torn country after being driven from Syria and Iraq.
It is also a troubling sign as France, which has faced the worst of the IS-inspired violence in Europe since 2015, debates how to handle hundreds of its citizens who went to fight for the group in the Middle East.
“A number” of Algerian and French nationals entered the largely IS-controlled district of Darzab in northern Jowzjan province in November, said district governor Baaz Mohammad Dawar.
At least two women were among the arrivals, who were travelling with a translator from Tajikistan as well as Chechens and Uzbeks, Dawar added.
Three of the Algerians seen in Darzab are believed to have been in Syria and Iraq, Dawar said, suggesting they may link IS-Khorasan Province (IS-K), the group’s franchise in Afghanistan and Pakistan, with the main group in the Middle East.
Mohammad Raza Ghafoori, the Jowzjan provincial governor’s spokesman, said French-speaking Caucasian men and women had been seen training IS fighters in Darzab.
He cited reports saying that around 50 children, some as young as 10, have also been recruited by the fighters.
Darzab residents said roughly 200 foreigners had set up camp just a few hundred metres from the village of Bibi Mariam.
One of the security sources said two of the French had been nicknamed “The Engineers” and appeared to be organising some sort of extraction, “but we do not know what they are looking for”.
Several European services believe the fighters are arriving through Tajikistan, the source said.
Aymenn Jawad al Tamimi, an expert on extremist groups, said he did not think the presence of foreign fighters in Afghanistan meant IS was necessarily “shifting its base”.
The group’s “natural home is Iraq and Syria, but I presume many of the foreigners in particular are taking the opportunity either to escape entirely or moving to other battlefields for IS where they might prove more useful,” he said. —AFP

Anne Chaon & Usman Sharifi