Taliban, ISIS fighters burn down each others' homes in Kunar

By Khalid Zerai

Smoke rises in the Quru area of Watapur District, Kunar Province, April 11 as Taliban militants burn the houses of ISIS members. [Khalid Zerai]

Smoke rises in the Quru area of Watapur District, Kunar Province, April 11 as Taliban militants burn the houses of ISIS members. [Khalid Zerai]

KUNAR -- Taliban members have burned down the houses of "Islamic State of Iraq" (ISIS) fighters in Watapur District in Kunar Province in retaliation for similar actions by the terrorist group.

ISIS fighters burned the homes of Taliban members after a series of bloody fights between the two groups in Chapa Dara District.

In response, "Taliban fighters have set fire to nearly 10 houses of [ISIS] members in Dewhoz, Katar, Gambir, Sangar and Quru villages of Watapur District in the last eight days," Kunar governor's spokesperson Ghani Musamim told Salaam Times on April 10.

"Both parties have yet to fight face to face, but ISIS fighters have moved from Watapur District to Manogi District," he said.

The Taliban fighters "are dragging out women and children from the houses of ISIS fighters and setting fire to the houses", he added.

Women and children abandoned by ISIS members live with their relatives and neighbours in those villages, while the insurgents have left, Musamim said.

Displacing families

"We counted 200 families displaced from Katar, Gambir, Dewhoz, Quru and other areas because of potential fighting between ISIS and the Taliban," Watapur District Governor Abdul Wahed Sapai told Salaam Times.

"Some of them moved to the Kunar provincial capital [Asadabad], and some have settled in various areas of Watapur District, and some have even gone to Jalalabad."

Some of the displaced families are the children and wives of ISIS fighters whose houses the Taliban burned down, he said.

About 2,000 families have moved from Chapa Dara District to neighbouring areas because of the clashes.

"We were neither with the Taliban nor with ISIS, but when we understood the situation around us, we knew that we could not live there," said Rahmatullah, who fled from Quru village to Shagai in the provincial capital, Asadabad.

"We left the area late in the afternoon and arrived in Shagai at night. We're staying here with a relative," he told Salaam Times. "We have left everything at home as we fled to save our lives. The government must help us."

"Some newcomers have arrived [in Watapur District], but many of them are those who used to be with the Taliban, and they're now with ISIS. Those who were in ISIS now serve with the Taliban," he added.

"Their names keep changing, but they're the very same people. But it has destroyed us."

Brother against brother

The fighting between the two insurgent groups is pitting family members against each other, said Rahmatullah Hamdard, a resident of Katar village in Watapur District.

"There are two brothers in Katar village: one is a ISIS fighter, and the other is a Taliban fighter," Hamdard told Salaam Times.

"The brother serving with the Taliban has been deployed to another area," while the Taliban "set fire to the house of his brother who serves with ISIS", he said.

"Face-to-face combat hasn't begun as of yet, but given the signs, fierce fighting is going to happen," he added. "ISIS fighters have all moved to Chapa Dara District, and they're busy fighting the Taliban there."

"But the Taliban are setting fire to their houses here [in Watapur District]. When they [ISIS fighters] come back, there is a chance that they will burn down Taliban members' houses with even people inside," Hamdard said.

The violence between the Taliban and ISIS could keep spreading, said Naseer Ahmad, a resident of Shahmir Koat village.

"Many families have settled at their relatives' houses; the conditions are grim here," Ahmad told Salaam Times.

"My family and I are also afraid because some of our relatives live in Katar village, and if the combat escalates, it will reach us too," he said.

Anti-militant operations

Kunar Refugees Affairs Director Abdul Rashid Sapai said his office will reach out to families forced out of their houses.

"We have started surveying those who have left Watapur District because of the clashes ... between ISIS and the Taliban," he said.

"We will distribute aid to eligible families after our survey is complete."

Afghan security forces will launch military operations against the Taliban and ISIS soon, said Musamim, the Kunar governor's spokesperson. He did not provide any details on the time frame.

"Our forces are busy identifying havens where ISIS and the Taliban operate in these remote areas so that they can launch missiles at them," he added.

"We also have a plan for full-fledged military operations," he said.

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