Army Gen. Joseph Votel, the commander of US Central Command, on Wednesday said the Afghan government has assured Washington that the group of Daesh fighters that surrendered to security forces in Jawzjan province last week “will be treated as war prisoners.”
He also said these fighters will investigated and held to account for any war crimes they were found to have committed.
Last week a group of between 200 and 250 Daesh fighters surrendered to security forces after a heavy battle against the Taliban.
“The government of Afghanistan has assured us these ISIS-K (Daesh) fighters will be treated as war prisoners,” Votel said.
“I want to highlight that the fight to eradicate ISIS-K being conducted by the United States and our Afghan partners continues,” the general said.
Votel also said ISIS-K is “not reconcilable” and must be eradicated.
“We’ve killed numerous ISIS-K fighters this year, and as you may remember, we continued operations against other terrorist organizations like al-Qaida during the recent Eid cease-fire between the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban.”
Votel stressed that the military campaign against Daesh has been continuous and effective, and that it was, in part, responsible for the surrender of the group in the first place.
Forces in Afghanistan are applying military pressure on the Taliban to convince them to enter talks toward reconciliation with the Afghan government, he noted.
“We have no illusions about reconciliation with ISIS-K,” Votel said. “Our mission is to destroy this organization.”
He told reporters that Daesh “is not a popular insurgency in Afghanistan,” he said. “Everybody is against them.”
The bottom line is that the ISIS-K fighters were taken off the battlefield, the general said.
“Taking ISIS-K fighters off the battlefield through attrition or surrender will make not only Afghanistan a safer place, but also protects the United States, its partners and allies,” he said.
Votel said he believes the strategy in Afghanistan is about right, but that he expects the incoming commander of forces there, Army Gen. Austin S. Miller, to make “tweaks” to it.
Votel said he wants to look at minimizing vulnerabilities to Afghan forces, and especially wants to look at employment of high-end Afghan special operations forces and ensuring those forces are used correctly and not overused.
Last week Jawzjan governor Lotfullah Azizi confirmed that Mawlawi Habiburrahman, the military head of Daesh, and his deputy for the northern region of Afghanistan, and an estimated 250 of their fighters surrendered to security forces in Jawzjan province.
According to him there were a number of foreign fighters in the group but he said they did not hand themselves over to security forces. These fighters are reportedly from Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, Indonesia and France.
He said that there was no credible information about the whereabouts of these foreign fighters, but that there is speculation that some of them were killed after joining the Taliban.
Meanwhile, Mawlawi Habiburrahman, the military head of Daesh said after surrendering that the Afghan government pledged to maintain their security and to not prosecute them.
“The government has made us certain promises, the government has said that we will join the peace process, if the government wants, we will be hired,” said Mawlawi Habiburrahman.
When asked about human rights violations and reports of Daesh fighters having raped women in Darzab district, Mawlawi Habiburrahman said: “If someone comes up with evidence to prove this, we are prepared that perpetrators be served justice.”
Addressing the Council of Ministers meeting on Monday, CEO Abdullah Abdullah discussed the recent move by Daesh fighters to surrender to government forces and said that war criminals will be dealt with according to the law.
He said crimes committed by prisoners of war must not be ignored.
Among the fighters who surrendered were dozens of child and teenage soldiers – under the age of 18.
But residents in Darzab district in Jawzjan have accused the group of having committed war crimes including rape and murder.
These residents also accused Daesh of torture, looting and imprisoning villagers down water wells.