February 15, 2023
ISLAMABAD — The chief diplomat in Afghanistan’s ruling Islamist Taliban has rejected as baseless Russia’s allegations that thousands of Islamic State militants have gathered in northern Afghanistan and threaten the stability of the Central Asian region.
“How come thousands of such people are concentrated in one place and still no one can see them or is aware of them?” Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi asked Wednesday in a televised speech at a ceremony in Kabul marking the 34th anniversary of the Soviet troop withdrawal from the country.
“Everyone is welcome here, see the solution with their own eyes and discuss with us if they have any concerns to share. But leveling baseless allegations to malign and add to the sufferings of this nation reeling from decades of war must come to an end,” Muttaqi said.
The Taliban response comes a day after a top Russian army general said that “extremist groups” had gained a “foothold” in Afghanistan, becoming “the biggest threat” to stability in the region.
Russia’s chief of the Joint Staff of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, Colonel General Anatoly Sidorov, described al-Qaida and the Afghan branch of Islamic State, known as Islamic State Khorasan, or IS-K, as “the most dangerous” of the groups in question.
“The number of members of the Islamic State’s Afghan branch, Wilayat Khorasan (IS-K), has significantly increased to about 6,500, with up to 4,000 militants concentrated along Tajikistan’s southern border in the [Afghan] provinces of Badakhshan, Kunduz, and Takhar,” Russian official media quoted Sidorov as saying.
The Russian allegations came on the same day Taliban special forces raided an IS-K hideout in the Afghan capital, killing three militants and capturing one.
A suicide bombing outside Moscow’s diplomatic mission in Kabul last September killed at least two embassy staffers and four Afghan visa-seekers. IS-K claimed responsibility.
The terror group has also targeted Pakistan’s embassy in the Afghan capital and a Chinese-run hotel in recent weeks.
The Taliban have lately enhanced the security of embassies and repeatedly dismissed the threat posed by IS-K, saying their forces have significantly degraded the group’s presence in the country.
The United States also questions Taliban claims of degrading IS-K’s presence in Afghanistan and describes the terror group as a “dangerous” Islamic State regional affiliate.