Afghan Government Returns Pakistani Relatives of IS Fighters

The Afghan government says more than 130 Pakistanis — women and children related to former fighters of the Islamic State terror group — have been returned to other family members and will be going home to Pakistan after being held in a detention center for several weeks.

The 55 women and 76 children, mostly wives and children of IS fighters who were either killed or defected to the government last November, were reunited Thursday with their extended families in a ceremony in Jalalabad, the capital of Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province.

The women and children had been held since November, when a large number of IS fighters surrendered. The facility in Nangarhar had been manned by Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security (NDS).

Six years ago we came to Achin and my father was killed in a fight with the Taliban,” said 12-year-old Ismatullah. “I was living in very difficult conditions in Achin with my mother and sisters. We are very happy we are going back to our own village,” Achin is a district in Nangarhar.

Afghanistan’s decision to return female or minor relatives to their extended families was made Wednesday in a jirga, a traditional gathering of elders, which included members of the Orakzai and Afridi tribes living in the border areas of both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Officials in Nangarhar said the return was based on on the promise of these people giving up militant connections. Nangarhar province is in the eastern part of Afghanistan, which shares a border with Pakistan.

We will take letters of guarantee from their relatives that they will not return to Afghanistan,” said Malik Ismat Shinwari, an elder from Tirah, on the Pakistani side of the border.

Malik Osman, an Afghan elder from Achin, warned that any deviation from that promise in the future would bring punishment.

Achin became an IS stronghold in the region when the group first emerged in early 2015. VOA reported at the time that many IS fighters arrived in Nangarhar with their families from the Tirah Valley in Pakistan and belonged to the Orakzai tribe. They claimed to be displaced by a Pakistani military operation and requested shelter from locals, who complied under tribal traditions.

Later, the brutality of the terror group forced thousands of locals, mostly from another tribe known as the Shinwari, to leave home, often with their belongings left behind.

Nangarhar was one of the few places in Afghanistan where the American military routinely fought alongside the Afghan military. In 2017, the province had the highest number of U.S. military combat casualties anywhere in the world.

Achin also was the place where in 2017, the U.S. military dropped its largest non-nuclear weapon, called a Massive Ordnance Air Blast, on IS targets. The device was nicknamed “Mother of all Bombs.” Afghan officials said the bombing killed 36 IS members. This was the first time the weapon was used in combat.