ISIS advances in Afghanistan must be rebuffed: EU envoy

The EU envoy warned that the advance of ISIS in the country must be "stopped quickly" to avoid the mistakes made in Syria

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The European Union's special representative to Afghanistan warned Wednesday that the advance of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group in the country must be "stopped quickly" to avoid the mistakes made in Syria.

Franz-Michael Mellbin wrote in German daily Die Welt that ISIS "is advancing in areas of Afghanistan that are the hardest to control" in a campaign that began one year ago.

"According to the ideology of the group, the final decisive battle leading to their actual goal -- the establishment of an Islamic caliphate -- will take place in that part of the world," he said.

After setbacks earlier this year, ISIS regrouped in recent weeks, Mellbin said, and "laid waste to sites in (the eastern province of) Nangarhar, brutally murdered tribal leaders, battled the Taliban, held entire families hostage and imposed rigid rules for women," he said.

Mellbin said Afghan security forces had fought back but were overstretched with operations against the Taliban in other regions.

He warned that the "great danger" was if ISIS began to attract fighters who abandoned the Taliban because of divisions within the movement or their rejection of a peace process.

Mellbin said ISIS did not yet pose a "strategic threat" in Afghanistan but was already complicating the political situation "because it is influencing the position of the government and the insurgents in peace talks".

He argued that the West needed an "immediate counterstrategy" while the Afghan government must find ways "to weaken the ISIS brand and its political foundations" built with "fear and propaganda".

He said air strikes and ground troops would not be enough to defeat the militants and must go hand-in-hand with improved local administration and state services in areas vulnerable to ISIS.

ISIS fighters have captured territory in Syria and Iraq and gained a foothold in Libya, Yemen and elsewhere in the Middle East, with alliances as far afield as Nigeria, with Boko Haram.

Afghanistan's thinly spread security forces are increasingly having to deal with the threat from a self-styled Islamic State group, which is looking to make inroads in the troubled country.

In September, it launched coordinated attacks on police checkpoints in Nangarhar, killing at least three officers.

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