General: Number of ISIS in Afghanistan 'in the 1 to 3,000 Range'

The chief spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan said Ashraf Ghani’s government considers ISIS cells in his country to be “a potential strategic threat” — and “we agree with that assessment.”

“And we are committed to making sure it doesn’t become any more powerful than it is,” Brig. Gen. Wilson Shoffner, deputy chief of staff for Resolute Support, told reporters via teleconference from Kabul today.

Shoffner said the U.S. military’s “characterization of Daesh remains that we see them as operationally emergent.”

“What we’re not seeing is Daesh having the ability from either Iraq or Syria to orchestrate operations in Afghanistan. We’re not seeing Daesh having the ability to conduct operations in Afghanistan in more than one place at a time,” he said.

“We are seeing Daesh attempting to do low-level recruiting and propaganda in various places in the country. Almost all of those, with the exception of Nangarhar province in the east, are unsuccessful. So, very, very low level activity, with the exception of the east.”

ISIS has been “attempting to establish a base of operations” in Nangarhar province, and is “contained largely to four or five districts” in the rugged southern part of the province.

“Afghan Security Forces have had quite a bit of success against them. In the past few weeks, we, the U.S., have increased significantly our pressure on Daesh. Part of this was enabled by the recent change in authorities, which has given us additional flexibility against Daesh,” Shoffner continued.

The general estimated the number of ISIS in the country to be “in the 1 to 3,000 range.”

“Largely, it is rebranding. We’re seeing primarily former TTP [Pakistani Taliban], some former Taliban pledging to Daesh. We’re not exactly sure what their motivation is,” he added. “…What we see are generally former TTP who believe that associating with Daesh or pledging to Daesh will further their interests in some way.”

Asked if there have been instances in which ISIS has posed a threat to U.S. forces, Shoffner replied, “I’m not going to get into specifics of targeting and the tactical level details with regard to Daesh.”

“But I will emphasize that the change in authorities has given us increased flexibility here and we appreciate that adjustment.”

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) noted at a hearing this morning on the ISIS threat that despite the terror group trying to take root in Afghanistan “only recently has the president lifted the rules of engagement that were preventing our troops from targeting this deadly group.”

“Last week, U.S. airstrikes finally destroyed an ISIS Voice of the Caliphate radio station there,” Royce said. “So what took so long?”

Voice of the Caliphate broadcast in Pashto, Dari and English within Nangarhar province. It was launched in early January, sparking protests from angry Afghans demanding to know why no one was taking action against the propaganda machine.