A French woman fighting for Islamic State in Afghanistan has been detained, Afghan officials said Friday, amid fears that IS militants fleeing Syria and Iraq are finding their way to the country.
The woman was captured during a military operation in the northern province of Jowzjan – a stronghold of Islamic State – Khorasan Province (ISIS-K) – on Thursday night, several officials said.
“In a joint operation between NDS and Afghan special forces, five Afghan men and a French woman fighting for IS were arrested in Darzab district of Jowzjan,” the National Directorate of Security, Afghanistan’s spy agency, said in a statement.
The Defence Ministry confirmed that a “French insurgent woman was among those detained”. Six ISIS fighters were also killed, it said.
Afghan officials did not clarify how they identified the woman’s nationality. One official described her to AFP as “French speaking.” They provided no further details about the woman or where she had come from.
Provincial police chief Faqir Mohammad Jawzjani told AFP that U.S. forces were also involved in Thursday’s operation.
“Four Daesh fighters were killed and one French woman… was also detained,” Jawzjani said, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS.
He added that two other French ISIS fighters were killed in the province recently.
Jawzjani said Afghan and U.S. forces took the woman into custody. This was confirmed by the provincial governor’s spokesperson Reza Ghafoori, who added that two Uzbek fighters had also been detained.
But a U.S. military spokesperson for the NATO-led Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan declined to respond and referred AFP to NDS.
Afghan and US offensives against ISIS-K ramp up
Afghan and U.S. special forces have ramped up airstrikes and ground offensives against ISIS in Jowzjan in recent months, which the Americans say have “disrupted” the group’s capacity to use foreign fighters.
“We know there are foreign fighters among them, but we will eliminate all of them regardless of their nationality,” defence ministry spokesperson Dawlat Waziri said at the time.
“We have reports that more than 40 foreign Daesh fighters, mostly Uzbeks, are present in Darzab and Qushtepa districts. They are there to recruit locals and train them to become fighters,” Reza Ghafoori, the spokesperson for Jowzjan’s governor said in December.
In January, Afghan forces caught Khitab Aka, the group’s “head facilitator of foreign forces”. Two months later, his two successors were killed in a U.S. airstrike, a Resolute Support statement on Thursday said.
U.S. and Afghan forces conducted a “nighttime raid” on Thursday in Mughul village in Darzab, the statement added. It made no mention of a French female fighter.
Most of the fighters in Jowzjan were “Pakistani Pashtun”, General John Nicholson, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, said in the statement.
Some were from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and there was “probably 10 percent that’s from a variety of sources around the world”, he added.
AFP recently reported that French and Algerian fighters, some arriving from Syria, had joined Islamic State-Khorasan Province in the restive province.
ISIS has a relatively small but potent presence in Afghanistan, mainly in the eastern province of Nangarhar and more recently Jowzjan. It also has cells in Kabul, and has claimed several high-profile attacks in recent months.
But it is dwarfed by the much larger Taliban, which also has had at least one European in its ranks.
A German national was recently arrested with the Taliban in the southern province of Helmand, Afghan officials said.
With reporting from AFP