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Afghan Military Rejects Russia’s Allegation of U.S. ‘Liberating Islamic State Leaders’

AFGHANISTAN -- Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers take part in a training exercise at the Kabul Military Training Centre (KMTC) in Kabul, January 27, 2019
Semyon Bagdasarov

Semyon Bagdasarov

Director, Center for Middle Eastern and Central Asian Studies

“Objectively, for the Americans contacts with ISIL are more interesting… – for spreading sabotage actions beyond the pales of Afghanistan. On the border with Turkmenistan there is a major offensive is being cooked by Islamic State and allied groups. That is where they may surface.”

Likely false
Islamic State militants were transferred under Afghan Intelligence control

The Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda repeated, in late January, a claim by the Iranian media agency Tasnim that U.S. troops “liberated 38-40 ISIL fighters from a Taliban prison in Badghis province, Afghanistan, killing 20-30 Taliban.”

“In mid-January after a special operation conducted by the U.S. military in the Badghis province in Afghanistan, 38-40 inmates believed to be the leaders of ISIL (Islamic State) formations have been transported on board of the U.S. military helicopters from the prison near Panjabis village… to an unknown location,” the article said.

Komsomolskaya Pravda interviewed an expert, Semyon Bagdasarov, the Director of the Center for Middle Eastern and Central Asian Studies, who alleged that the U.S. has been transporting these Islamic State fighters to the border with Turkmenistan where they are “preparing a major offensive targeted at destabilizing Russia and China.”

Afghan Military Rejects Russia’s Allegation of U.S. ‘Liberating Islamic State Leaders’
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The allegations are likely false.

Lt. Col Abdul Qayoum Nooristani, Afghan Special Operation Corps spokesperson, told the VOA Extremism Watch Desk that the operation was conducted not by the U.S. but by the Afghan troops, and that the Islamic State members then have been transferred under the control of the Afghan Intelligence Agency – the National Directorate of Security.

On January 13, the Afghan Special Operations Corps released a statement, saying that, “The Afghan Special Operations’ first brigade conducted a nighttime special operation in the vicinity of Ghorb village, Jawand district of northern Badghis province.”

The special operations corps stated, “11 Taliban terrorist were killed and 36 Islamic State members, including 18 men, 6 women and 12 children, kept as captives by Taliban, were arrested and transferred to National Directorate of Security.”

AFGHANISTAN -- Forces with Afghanistan's National Directorate Security (NDS) escort alleged Taliban fighters after they are presented to media in Jalalabad, January 23, 2019
AFGHANISTAN -- Forces with Afghanistan's National Directorate Security (NDS) escort alleged Taliban fighters after they are presented to media in Jalalabad, January 23, 2019

​There is no mention of any U.S. troops taking part in the operation, though the Afghan military “always makes clear” when such operations are conducted jointly with the coalition or the U.S. forces, a journalist from the VOA Extremism Watch Desk, an expert on Afghanistan, told

The Pentagon did not respond to a inquiry regarding the operation. Reports on the death of a U.S. Army Ranger, Sgt. Cameron Meddock, in Afghanistan on January 13 raise some question whether U.S. soldiers might have been in the vicinity. The Army Times website said Meddock was killed by “small-arms fire” in an operation in Badghis province, but did not mention the attack on a Taliban prison by the Afghan Special Forces.

Map of Central Asia. 2015
Map of Central Asia. 2015

Also in January, Russian Interior Ministry’s representative Igor Zubov said that, “unidentified helicopters in Pakistan are transporting Islamic State fighters massively” to the border of Tajikistan to prepare an offensive in that Central Asian country, with an aim at destabilizing Russia, information similar to the foreign ministry’s debunked statement but naming a different Central Asian country as the destination for IS transfers.

The Radio Free Europe’s Tajik service investigated the Russian assertions finding no merit in the claim that the United States military was behind such a move.

The Commander of the Afghanistan Defense Ministry’s 209 Division General, Alimohammad Akhmadzai told RFE/RL, that the coalition and Afghan forces have been conducting airstrikes in the northern provinces against the ISIL compounds but there are still terrorist strongholds remaining in the region.

In mid-January, the Russian Foreign Ministry alleged (based on a statement by the Taliban), that the U.S. military “liberated” a group of ISIL terrorist from a prison in northern Afghanistan and transported them on helicopters to an unknown location. looked into the Russian claim but found no proof to support it.

The report by Komsomolskaya Pravda appears to be mirroring a less specific statement by the Russian Foreign Ministry on January 16 that meandered from Syria to Afghanistan. debunked the claim shortly afterwards, yet Russian officials and state media continue to repeat it.

The narrative has been constantly present in the Russian Defense and Foreign Ministries’ public statements, many of which has investigated and debunked. Well over a year ago, a Russian official, without evidence, said the U.S. was using an Islamic State group to destabilize “the situation in Central Asia.”

Last year, there was a similar claim in Russian state media of mysterious helicopters supposedly providing support to Islamic State fighters. verified the video published by the Russian state media agency Sputnik showed a helicopter, which was not U.S military.