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US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley takes aim at Iran and its proxy militia Hezbollah

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FILE - United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley attends a meeting of the Security Council at U.N. headquarters in New York, Feb. 7, 2017. VOA
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The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations took aim at Iran and its proxy militia Hezbollah on Thursday, saying the United States would act against this “growing menace.”

At the monthly meeting of the U.N. Security Council that focuses on the Middle East, specifically the Israeli-Palestinian issue, Nikki Haley said the council should expand its attention to focus on other threats in the region.

“We need to start with the chief culprit: Iran and its partner militia Hezbollah,” she said, referring to the Lebanese Shi’ite militant group, which the U.S. has designated as a terrorist organization. She said the two have conspired together to destabilize the region through terrorist acts and military action.

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“Today they prop up Bashar al-Assad’s brutality, fighting alongside his forces, adding to the killing of thousands of civilians and the misery of millions of refugees,” Haley said of Iran and Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian conflict. “They train deadly militias in Iraq, and arm Houthi militants in Yemen,” she added.

“While this council has paid too little attention to this growing menace, the United States will not,” she warned. “We are going to speak up about Iran and Hezbollah, and we are going to act against their lawlessness.”

The U.S. ambassador’s strong comments come a day after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson criticized Tehran, saying that while it had abided by its obligations under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action agreed between the six major powers and Iran in 2015, the deal had not stopped Iran’s ability and determination to develop nuclear weapons.

“An unchecked Iran has the potential to follow the same path as North Korea and take the world along with it,” Tillerson told reporters on Wednesday.

FILE - Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks to the media during a shared press conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov following their talks in Moscow, Russia, April 12, 2017
FILE – Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks to the media during a shared press conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov following their talks in Moscow, Russia, April 12, 2017 , VOA

The Trump administration said this week that it is conducting a 90-day review of the nuclear deal to evaluate whether suspending Iran sanctions are in the vital interest of U.S. national security.

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At the United Nations, Haley told council diplomats that Washington is not waiting to respond to Iran for its non-nuclear related behavior.

“Iran remains a designated state sponsor of terrorism and we continue to enforce all sanctions related to Iran’s support for terrorism and destabilizing activities in the region,” Haley said.

In February, the Trump administration designated for sanctions 25 individuals and entities for their support for Iran’s ballistic missile program, or for their support for Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. (vOA)

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Can Flourishing Islamic State (ISIS) be Stopped in Afghanistan?

The truth about IS and Afghanistan is definitely no picnic

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Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2016.
Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2016. The rise of IS in Afghanistan has become such a priority that U.S. and Afghan forces sometimes support the Taliban while battling IS, VOA
  • Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups
  • Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops
  • In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS

June 25, 2017: The Islamic State group is rapidly expanding in parts of Afghanistan, advancing militarily into areas where it once had a weak presence and strengthening its forces in core regions, according to Afghan and U.S. officials.

Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups.

Attacking IS has become such a priority in the country, that disparate forces sometimes join together in the ad-hoc fight, with Afghan and U.S. forces finding themselves inadvertently supporting the enemy Taliban in battling IS.

Confusion leads to mistakes

All too often, officials say, mistakes are made due to confusion on the ground.

Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops, provincial police chief, Rahmatullah Turkistani told VOA. The supplies were meant to help Afghan forces that are countering twin attacks by IS and Taliban militants but were used instead by IS.

“It’s not getting better in Afghanistan in terms of IS,” U.S. Chief Pentagon Spokeswoman Dana White told VOA this week. “We have a problem, and we have to defeat them and we have to be focused on that problem.”

Reinforcements for the IS cause reportedly are streaming into isolated areas of the country from far and wide. There are reports of fighters from varied nationalities joining the ranks, including militants from Pakistan, India, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Russia and Central Asian neighbors.

Confusing scenarios

Still, the Islamic State-Khorasan (ISK) as IS is known in Afghanistan remains a fragmented group composed of differing regional forces with different agendas in different parts of the country.

“IS-K is still conducting low-level recruiting and distribution of propaganda in various provinces across Afghanistan, but it does not have the ability or authority to conduct multiple operations across the country,” a recent Pentagon report said. But where it operates, IS is inflicting chaos and casualties and causing confusing scenarios for disparate opponents.

In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS. IS regained ground after a few days, leading to U.S. military air attacks on IS positions in conjunction with Afghan intelligence instructions and army operations.

IS fighters reportedly have fled from mountain caves of Tora Bora, where al-Qaida’s leader Osama bin Laden hid from U.S. attack in 2001.

Families displaced

IS fighters were also reportedly advancing in neighboring Khogyani district, displacing hundreds of families, according to district officials. It is one of several areas in Nangarhar province, near the Pakistani border, where IS has been active for over two years.

Fierce clashes in the Chaparhar district of Nangarhar last month left 21 Taliban fighters and seven IS militants dead, according to a provincial spokesman. At least three civilians who were caught in the crossfire were killed and five others wounded.

“IS has overpowered Taliban in some parts of Nangarhar because the Taliban dispatched its elite commando force called Sara Qeta (Red Brigade) to other parts of the country, including some northern provinces to contain the growing influence of IS there,” Wahid Muzhda, a Taliban expert in Kabul, told VOA.

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Recruiting unemployed youths

IS has also expanded in neighboring Kunar province, where, according to provincial police chief, it has a presence in at least eight districts and runs a training base, where foreign members of IS, train new recruits.

Hundreds of miles from Nangarhar, IS is attempting to establish a persistent presence in several northern provinces where it has found a fertile ground for attracting militants and recruiting unemployed youths, mostly between the age of 13 and 20.

IS has been able to draw its members from the Pakistani Taliban fighters, former Afghan Taliban, and other militants who “believe that associating with or pledging allegiance” to IS will further their interests, according to the Pentagon report.

Hundreds of militants have joined IS ranks in northern Jouzjan and Sar-e-Pul province where local militant commanders lead IS-affiliate groups in several districts.

Darzab district

Qari Hekmat, an ethnic Uzbek and former Taliban militant who joined IS a year ago, claims to have up to 500 members, including around 50 Uzbek nationals who are affiliated with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) — previously associated with al-Qaida and Taliban in Afghanistan.

IS and Taliban are reportedly fighting over the control of Darzab district in Jouzjan which they stormed this week from two different directions and besieged scores of government forces. The Taliban has reportedly captured the center of the district while IS militants control the city outskirts.

Afghanistan faces a continuing threat from as many as 20 insurgent and terrorist networks present or operating in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, including IS, the Pentagon said.

“In areas where the government has limited influence and control, IS attempts to emerge and expand there,” Ateequllah Amarkhail, an analysts and former Army general in Kabul told VOA.

Hit-and-hide strategy

IS has also claimed responsibility for several recent attacks in urban areas, however, with a hit-and-hide strategy that is proving effective. And it is engaging too in more skirmishes with U.S. forces that initially were sent to the country to help Afghan forces halt the spread of Taliban.

Three American service members based in eastern Afghanistan were killed in April during operations targeting IS militants, according to the Pentagon.

“ISIS-K remains a threat to Afghan and regional security, a threat to U.S. and coalition forces, and it retains the ability to conduct high-profile attacks in urban centers,” the Pentagon said. (VOA)