“The Most Risky … Job Ever.” Reporting on “ISIS in Afghanistan” | ISIS in Afghanistan | FRONTLINE | PBS

The viciousness with which the self-proclaimed Islamic State has handled journalists is, sadly, effectively ingrained. In August 2014, the terrorist group that has claimed accountability for final Friday’s horrific assault on Paris posted a video on-line displaying the beheading of kidnapped American reporter James Foley. Lower than a month later, one other video was launched of a second beheading, this time of freelance journalist Steven Sotloff.

It’s towards this backdrop that Najibullah Quraishi returned residence to Afghanistan this previous summer time to report on the latest emergence there of the Islamic State, also called ISIS or ISIL.

“I’ve been embedded with the Taliban many, many occasions,” Quraishi says in his new FRONTLINE documentary, ISIS in Afghanistan. “However after I first heard about ISIS in Afghanistan, I used to be shocked. I used to be considering, ‘Why ISIS in Afghanistan? What are they doing in my nation?’”

What he witnessed was as disturbing for him because it was confounding — former members of the Taliban becoming a member of ranks with militants waiving the black flag of ISIS in a number of districts throughout jap Afghanistan and coaching a brand new technology of jihadis.

Within the district of Shaigal, Quraishi discovered ISIS fighters dwelling among the many locals, who advised him native kids are educated by the Islamic State from the age of three. At one college he visited, he filmed an teacher displaying kids the way to shoot a Kalashnikov, the way to throw hand grenades and preaching to them concerning the methods of jihad. In Chapa Dara district, a commander launched him to 2 youngsters who he mentioned had been skilled to be ISIS suicide bombers.

The work was harmful, and as Quraishi admits within the movie, “I used to be remembering my spouse, my sons … I used to be considering, ‘Perhaps you received’t come again once more. They could kill you. They could kidnap you. They could do one thing mistaken.’”

Simply as horrifying, he says, is what ISIS’ emergence in Afghanistan — although nonetheless nascent — will imply for the way forward for a rustic that has already been besieged by struggle for many years.

“After I noticed these younger kids, I used to be actually, actually upset, actually unhappy. I used to be enthusiastic about Afghanistan’s future, Afghanistan’s subsequent technology, what now we have subsequent. These kids who learn to kill individuals, the way to do jihad, the way to behead, the way to fireplace, this may be Afghanistan.”

We sat down with Quraishi on Nov. 12, 2015 to speak about his reporting on ISIS in Afghanistan. That is an edited transcript of that dialog:

You’ve embedded with the Taliban many occasions earlier than. How stark was the distinction between them and the militants you met who at the moment are aligning with ISIS?

Being with the Taliban, it’s utterly completely different than being with ISIS. ISIS is extra harmful, and worse than some other terrorist community on the earth … they usually do no matter they wish to. It was probably the most dangerous and harmful job ever I’ve achieved in my life.

When did you first begin listening to about ISIS in Afghanistan?

I heard first someday in June 2014, however at first I didn’t imagine that. Why ought to ISIS be in Afghanistan? Now we have the Taliban and different terrorist networks in Afghanistan, so I assumed possibly it’s simply propaganda, and possibly it’s not true.

However later after they [killed and hanged] 12 Taliban leaders in jap Afghanistan, then everybody in Afghanistan was considering and saying, who’re these masked males? And later we came upon that these masked males who killed 12 Taliban had been nobody else besides ISIS, so then they started to have some house in Afghanistan.

Till final month they had been combating solely towards the Taliban, and their purpose was solely to get extra territory out of the Taliban, however from final month they began combating towards the Afghan authorities. They’re highly effective. They’ve plenty of cash, they’re rich, they usually’re attempting to seize extra areas in Afghanistan and attempt to make a sort of base inside Afghanistan.

You must bear in mind one factor — geographically, Afghanistan is an effective place for the terrorists, as a result of it’s surrounded by mountains, and there are many villages inside mountains, so it’s straightforward for them to cover themselves, or to recruit the individuals. No matter they wish to do they’ll do.

What can we find out about the place they’re in Afghanistan and what their goals are?

They’re primarily on the border of Pakistan in jap Afghanistan, and likewise they’ve moved into south Afghanistan as effectively, in Helmand province and Urozgan province. Now we have six borders with six international locations, and that’s why I believe one of many explanation why they’re in Afghanistan is due to our location. As a result of now we have six borders, with China, with Pakistan, Iran, and with Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.

What they’re saying, they’re mentioning [an historical region] Khorasan. After we say Khorasan, that’s the title of nations, akin to Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, so that they’re purpose is to go over to those international locations from Afghanistan. That is their purpose.

Are the fighters you met primarily from Afghanistan? Did you meet fighters from international international locations as effectively?

I noticed primarily Pakistani fighters and Afghans, however they advised me that they’ve plenty of foreigners too, from Chechnya, from Syria, Iraq, however they didn’t wish to present me.

We see within the movie an ISIS commander saying that they’re recruiting fighters by providing them $700 a month. Is that the principle draw or are there different components at play?

That is one thing everybody within the rural areas is aware of about. Afghanistan is a poor nation. They’ve farming, these items, so when ISIS goes via their contacts, they method village elders, saying: “Right here we’re. We’re Muslim. There is no such thing as a Mullah Omar, the chief of the Taliban, he has died, so now now we have solely Islamic State all around the world. You’ll go to heaven, and likewise you may earn cash.” So the persons are uneducated, in addition to poor, so when ISIS is explaining like this, saying: “That is Islam. That is how you’ll go to heaven,” in addition to $700 per thirty days, then they are saying sure, it’s a very good deal, let’s go forward. They recruit like this.

The place is the Afghan authorities and the West in all of this?

Whereas NATO was in Afghanistan, or American troops had been in Afghanistan, we hoped we’d [build] a extremely educated technology in Afghanistan. Then these fighters [who are with ISIS or the Taliban today] may be one thing else. These individuals had been rising up within the final decade whereas Afghanistan was receiving billions of {dollars} in support, however sadly, the federal government was corrupt, they usually didn’t construct a rustic, they didn’t construct faculties, they didn’t put money into the agricultural areas of Afghanistan.

Our predominant downside is training. Over 90 p.c of our inhabitants is uneducated. So what are you able to count on? The terrorists come from Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, saying the Quran says this, Quran says that, and the Afghans imagine that as a result of they communicate Arabic, they suppose they know the language of Quran, they usually know Islam higher than us, let’s comply with them. So that they merely comply with them.

The youngsters who’re within the movie, a few of them had been eight or 9. I used to be shocked to see such a madrassa and such lecturers, and the poor kids who’re studying weapons. As a substitute of grammar or math or one thing else, they had been studying what’s jihad, the way to do jihad, the way to kill, weapons, the way you kill individuals. It was stunning for me to see inside Afghanistan, inside my nation, such issues happening although now we have spent billions of {dollars} investing in Afghanistan. Nothing has been modified in a optimistic manner. So to be sincere, I can’t see any vivid future for the nation.

James Foley, Steven Sotloff: It goes with out saying that reporting on ISIS is among the most harmful assignments there may be for a journalist. How apprehensive had been you about your security?

To be sincere, whenever you go inside one thing, then you aren’t with you. You might be within the fingers of any person else, and also you don’t know what they’ll do with you. Typically it appeared thrilling that I used to be going to fulfill probably the most harmful group ever, however generally after I was enthusiastic about what they’ve achieved with different journalists in different international locations, and the way they’re behaving with different individuals around the globe, then I used to be enthusiastic about my security, and I had no hopes to return again once more. I used to be saying this may be finish of my life … They will do no matter they wish to. And this was my fear. I used to be carrying correct Afghani garments with a white hat on my head to indicate them I’m an bizarre individual, however nonetheless, there was plenty of danger. However as a journalist, if you wish to discover the world, it’s a must to take a danger.

Was there a selected second the place you had been most involved?

Sure. After I was following the 2 [teenage] suicide bombers, they went contained in the mosque, and I didn’t realize it was forbidden to movie them contained in the mosque. One of many fighters was shouting at me, mainly not shouting, swearing on me. My fixer got here to me and took my hand and advised me to return out of the mosque. So once we got here out, he mentioned, “You didn’t hear the shout?” I mentioned sure, I heard one thing, however I didn’t realize it was for me. So after I heard this, we left the realm. I advised to my driver, simply depart the realm. We wished to spend the evening with them, then after I heard that from my fixer, I mentioned no, it’s going to be harmful for us. If we stayed through the evening, he may do one thing. Security was my precedence. Not solely my security, my staff’s security. So I made a decision to depart. It was a harmful second for me.

You say that what we’re witnessing in Afghanistan now’s actually simply ISIS in its infancy. What’s the potential for his or her progress there? And what must occur to cease it?

Based on the native journalists and a few consultants who I used to be speaking with, in the long run what they imagine, both the Taliban would management some territory, ISIS would management some territory, in addition to the federal government would management some territory. So Afghanistan could be break up into three components. Some suppose that in some years, we is not going to see any Taliban — they’ll all be a part of ISIS as a result of the Taliban don’t have a correct chief anymore.

However one factor you must bear in mind, the Afghan inhabitants, particularly after what occurred a few days in the past — they beheaded seven individuals, together with two girls and one little one — the Taliban by no means did this earlier than, so now all of the Afghans are standing towards them.

In the event that they get no help from Afghan individuals, particularly from the agricultural areas, then it’s laborious for them to maintain in Afghanistan. They’ve to depart Afghanistan. In the event that they get some help — once more they’ve cash. You probably have cash in Afghanistan, then you’ll be able to do no matter you wish to do. So I believe that point will show the whole lot. Proper now I can not say something, however all I can say, in the event that they proceed like this, like what I noticed, they might seize all Afghanistan, and there could be no Taliban, no different insurgency. They’d all be a part of them.

Jason M. Breslow

Jason M. Breslow, Former Digital Editor

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