NANGARHAR -- The "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) is stepping up attacks on the Taliban in Nangarhar Province in a bid to wrest control of talc mines and help fund its global terrorism campaign, local authorities say.
The majority of Nangarhar's talc mines are situated in the Sherzad and Khogyani districts, where clashes between the two militant groups have recently intensified.
"Fighting between ISIS and the Taliban in Khogyani and Sherzad districts is aimed at capturing these mines," Ataullah Khogyani, a spokesman for the Nangarhar governor, said in an interview.
"Most of these mines are under the control of the Taliban; however, now ISIS is trying to reach these areas and bring the mines --- which can be a big source of income -- under its control," he said. "ISIS has come closer to the outskirts of Spin Ghar, where the mines are located."
Extortion by militants at mines
Talc mined in Afghanistan is transported across the border into neighbouring Pakistan, where it is mixed with Pakistani talc before export, according to a report by GlobalWitness.org.
About 40% of talc exported from Pakistan goes to the United States, followed by exports to the Netherlands and Italy and other European Union countries.
Talc appears in products such as paint, cosmetics and baby powder.
"All the fighting [between ISIS and the Taliban] is to get the benefits of these mines," said Sohrab Qaderi, a member of the Nangarhar provincial council. "As far as I know, ISIS wants to reach these mines in order to get money."
ISIS is also cutting down forests in Achin and Pacheragam districts as part of illegal logging activities and transporting timber through the Tirah border entry point to Pakistan, he added.
"So if they capture these areas, they can have a shorter way to ship talc to Pakistan," he said.
The Taliban have been extorting mining operators to fund their operations, and now ISIS is seeking to do the same, said Malak Karnail, a tribal elder of Sherzad District.
"The Taliban receive 'taxes' from the talc mines in Spin Ghar and Khogyani districts, and no one can work there without the Taliban's permission," he said in an interview. "ISIS wants to capture these areas so that it then can collect 'taxes' under the pretext of jihad while committing mass murder."
"If ISIS reaches these important areas where the mines exist, then it will be very difficult to force it out of there," he said, adding that the government should take measures to prevent this.
ISIS is intensifying its efforts to capture the mines from the Taliban, agreed Roshan Khogyani, a resident of Khogyani District, who said the government needs to step in and ensure that neither militant group gains control.
"ISIS has captured many areas from the Taliban in the two districts, and it has gotten close to the mines," he said. "If the situation continues, ISIS will be able to reach the talc mines."
"The government should take serious measures to bring the mines under its control, so that it get the benefits from them," he added.
"On one hand, the fighting will decrease because the income sources of the Taliban and ISIS will dry up, while on the other hand the government will gain the income from the mines."
Fresh military operations
The government for its part has stepped up militant operations against both insurgent groups in the area.
Afghan forces launched operations against ISIS and Taliban militants in Khogyani District on July 1, said Khogyani, the spokesman for the Nangarhar governor.
"These operations will continue until the areas are cleared of ISIS and Taliban militants," he said. "Joint Afghan forces are taking part in the operations."
After the clearing efforts are complete in Khogyani [District], similar moves will begin in Sherzad, Khogyani said.