MOSCOW - Daesh has over 10,000 fighters in Afghanistan - many of whom fled Syria and Iraq this year - Russia's head of the Middle East department at the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Saturday.
In an interview with Russia's news agency RIA Novositi, RT reported the Russian envoy as saying that Moscow believes the US may be underestimating their threat to Afghanistan and that more could be coming in.
He said many of these fighters who ended up in Afghanistan were pushed out of their home base in Syria and Iraq this year by separate military operations of a US-led coalition, and the Syrian Army backed by Russia.
“Russia was among the first nations to ring alarm about the expansion of IS (Daesh) into Afghanistan,” he told RIA Novosti.
“Lately IS has boosted its presence in the country. Our estimate is that their force there is stronger than 10,000 troops and is continuing to grow. That includes new fighters with combat experience received in Syria and Iraq.”
According to him, Daesh forces are strongest in the north of Afghanistan on the border with Tajikistan and Turkmenistan – a point of concern for Russia, which has close historic ties with both nations.
“IS goals are definitely to expand its influence outside of Afghanistan, which they use as a staging ground. This poses a significant security threat for Central Asia and southern parts of Russia,” Kabulov said.
RT reported that Kabulov said Moscow and Washington differ in opinions about how big a threat Daesh poses to Afghanistan and Central Asia.
He said Washington was focusing on fighting the Taliban. According to RT, he said the US was also in the process of alienating other nations in the region by criticizing them for failing to put enough pressure on the Taliban - "while overlooking its own failures."
“Considering the realities on the ground, which is that the Taliban controls half of the country, one can ask the question: does the US pull its weight? Russia stands for cooperation with international partners based on equality and which takes into account national interests of all nations of the region,” Kabulov said.
This comes after Washington recently accused Pakistan of failing to properly fight the Taliban and threatened it with repercussions unless Pakistan ramps up counterinsurgency operations in its tribal areas.
RT reported that Kabulov said Moscow was prepared to work together with Washington to foster stability in Afghanistan, and said it was America’s decision to stop such cooperation, not Russia’s. In April, Moscow invited the US to take part in Russia-hosted Afghanistan peace talks, but the US declined to participate.