News You Really Need To See: “Fear of Islamic State Revives Afghan Mujahideen”

“Fear of Islamic State Revives Afghan Mujahideen”

The Washington Post, February 25, 2015, p.A1

The 25 men who gathered last week in a poor enclave of this ancient city bore the scars of a lifetime of war.  One lost four fingers fighting Taliban militants.  Another lost his right leg fighting the Soviets.  Now, seated in a bare room on a cold morning, they declared readiness to make even greater sacrifices against a new enemy: the Islamic State.  To accomplish that, they have taken the law into their own hands.  The men, mostly former mujahideen commanders, have created Afghanistan’s newest militia — Margh, or ‘Death,’ in the local Dari language.  It’s so named because they vow to fight to the end to prevent Syria- and Iraq-based extremists from establishing a foothold in their country. … The danger posed by the Islamic State to Afghanistan is minimal at the moment.  Yet that hasn’t stopped fears from swirling through the nation and the corridors of power. … The Margh militia is the latest of the many irregular armed groups brazenly forming across the nation, seldom challenged by authorities even as President Ashraf Ghani has vowed to disband them.  With most U.S. and NATO forces gone and Afghanistan’s security forces struggling to fill the void, such renegade militias pose a major obstacle to Ghani’s promise of creating a new Afghanistan where the rule of law is respected. … Many Margh fighters are ethnic Hazaras and Shiite Muslims, including Mahabiyar, a wiry 40-year-old.  Some Afghan officials speculate that the militia is backed by Iran, which supports the Shiite militias in Iraq fighting the Sunni Islamic State.  But the militia’s leaders insist the driving force here is not sectarian.  Their members also include ethnic Tajiks, Uzbeks and Pashtuns, who are all Sunni.  They share outrage over the Islamic State’s brutality — and a historic dislike of foreign invaders.”

Quickie Analysis:  Afghanistan’s aversion to foreign fighters is well known, but any ISIS presence in Afghanistan is likely to be homegrown.  Afghans seeking to thwart ISIS at home should probably be more concerned about countering recruitment pitches than forming militias right now.

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