by Farid Behbud
SHIBERGHAN, Afghanistan, Dec. 16 (Xinhua) -- The Islamic State (IS) terrorist group has been continuing recruiting from the youth in the strategically important Darzab and neighboring Qush Tepa districts of northern Afghanistan's Jawzjan province, local officials said Saturday.
"During the winter it has been difficult to fight in Afghanistan as it is a mountainous country, but in the harsh winter, the militants remarkably step up efforts to recruit locals. The IS militants, in Darzab and Qush Tepa as well, is trying to enroll more people before the next spring and summer, known as fighting season," a local security official told Xinhua.
The official who spoke on condition of anonymity said the IS has been working on a plan to capture more areas in the two important districts laying in southwestern of provincial capital Shiberghan city.
"Our latest findings on situation in Darzab and Qush Tepa showed that about 300 children and youth are receiving religious and military training by extremist IS fighters in hideouts in the two districts," Halima Sadat, a member of provincial council, told Xinhua recently.
However, Reza Ghafori, provincial government spokesman, confirmed to Xinhua the presence of 50 to 60 youth in IS training centers in the two mentioned districts.
Before winter, the IS fighters ran over several villages after fighting the rival Taliban insurgents and government security forces in Darzab.
"Nowadays, the Taliban lost all territory in Darzab and have no presence there. Only central parts and surrounding areas of the district headquarters in Darzab is controlled by the government forces and most parts of the district are under IS control," Sadat noted.
"We have frequently warned the government, to launch military operations and kick out IS militants in Darzab and Qush Tepa but the government did not respond to our demands and failed to control the districts form IS presence," Sadat said.
However, spokesman Ghafori stated that the Afghan security forces have continued to press the militants in Jawzjan. On Dec. 6, five IS militants were killed and 10 injured after Afghan air force struck an IS hideout in Darzab, he said.
The exact number of IS militants in Jawzjan and across Afghanistan remained unknown and no official figures about members of the terrorist group has been shared with media.
"Our intelligence found there have been dozens of foreign fighters from France, Germany, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan as well as Pakistan and Arab countries alongside the IS in Jawzjan. They are fighting government forces and rival Taliban insurgents recently to capture more territory," the security source said.
"The foreign IS fighters have been involved in training and advising local militias and new recruits," he said, adding, "The situation is critical and several Jawzjan districts are under threat."
Jawzjan province with Shiberghan as its capital, 390 km north of Kabul, has been the scene of IS activities over the past one year.
However, local observers said that kidnapping of more areas in Darzab and Qush Tepa by IS fighters would pave the way for the hardliner group to influence in the neighboring Sari Pul and Faryab provinces, and IS would further expand its grips in the area.
The IS group emerged in eastern Nangarhar province in early 2015 but the group has spread to and been found foothold in several Afghan provinces, including Jawzjan and southern Helmand and Zabul provinces.
Since earlier this month, the security forces have been clashing with IS militants in Khogyani district of Nangarhar. The clashes have forced hundreds of villagers to flee.
Five IS militants were killed, four injured by the security forces in Khogyani within the past 24 hours, Shirin Aga, an army press officer in the region told Xinhua Saturday.
Commander of army corps in eastern region has also expressed concerns over recruiting from the people in eastern Paktia province, Tolo News reported on Saturday.
Latest IS terrorist activities have worried the neighboring countries.
Scores of civilians have been killed or injured during the fightings between security forces, IS militants and Taliban insurgents in Darzab and Qush Tepa over the past one year but the exact number of casualties has yet to be determined, according to Halima.