On the terror frontline with British troops helping Afghan soldiers to stop ISIS – Mirror Online

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On the terror frontline with British troops helping Afghan soldiers to stop ISIS – Mirror Online

The bloodied streets of the Afghan capital Kabul are piano-wire tense after years of hotel and street blasts which have claimed many hundreds of civilian lives.

Concrete blast walls, barbed wire and armoured convoys are all over the city and, for safety, we travel the few miles between bases by Puma helicopter.

We are in Kabul to witness how more than 1,000 UK troops are carrying out their mission to lock down the capital and train local military and police so they can destroy the Taliban threat.

Our soldiers are the heavily armed “Guardian Angels” who protect the officials trying to rebuild Afghanistan.

The war between the Afghan government and Taliban must end to stop IS establishing itself here before launching attacks abroad.



Female Afghan soldiers at their graduation ceremony at the Afghan Army Officer Academy Anoaoa, Quargha, west of Kabul

As fears rose yesterday of an attack on Britain after IS papers found in Syria revealed plots to target Europe, Royal Marines Major General Matt Holmes DSO, our most senior officer in Afghanistan, told of the threat from Islamic State in the Khorasan, ISKP.

Maj Gen Holmes said: “The mission in Afghanistan for British troops ultimately is to protect our homeland and stop terrorists using this county as a safe haven for external attacks.

“Islamic State – Khorasan represents a very real threat to the UK. They are regarded as the enemies of everyone operating in Afghanistan, including the Taliban.”

Maj Gen Holmes said, ultimately, the responsibility for defeating Islamic State rested with the Afghans.

He said: “By empowering the Afghan security forces, enabling and advising them to stop terror groups getting traction, we help keep Britain safe.



Sgt Scott Murray of the 1st Battalion Anglian Royal Regiment, who is near to completing his fourth tour of Afghanistan

“If terror groups see Afghanistan as an ungoverned space they can exploit it once more to plot attacks abroad.

“Afghanistan is a hugely complex and colourful country, but what we are seeing here is brave Afghan soldiers and police officers battling to secure it with the support of our NATO partners.

“There are many nations involved and Britain has and is playing an absolutely key role in making that mission work – to protect the homeland.

“There is a real unique chance for peace in Afghanistan. It is really important for all of us that it is seized. The Afghans deserve peace.”

As many as 456 British troops have died in conflict with the Afghan Taliban, along with 68,000 Afghan soldiers and 2,420 American personnel – with the civilian toll at 40,000.



Cpl Ashok Gurung of the Royal Gurkha rifles

The Mirror can reveal that UK forces here believe peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government could end almost 20 years of fighting.

Just days ago, three US soldiers were killed in a Taliban blast 30 miles from Kabul, but Afghan National Army Brigadier General Ihsanullah Azim confirmed peace talks were underway,when he spoke exclusively to the Mirror.

He said: “Hopefully there will be peace. It means the Taliban and the government will share power. Right now ISKP are operating in a few provinces.

“But hopefully we have these negotiations with the Taliban and the government.

“If the Taliban and the government come together then Daesh will not be significant. They will be easily defeated.”

Brigadier General Azim’s officers are trained at the Afghan National Army Officer Academy, where Brigadier Adam Griffiths OBE is the chief mentor.



The view from a Puma helicopter over Kabul

He said: “We know there is a threat from IS. The Taliban do not like Daesh. The Afghans do not want to allow international terrorism to establish here.

“People are weary of fighting here. People have known nothing but war here. People are wary of the Taliban, but they are one part of the solution.”

The academy, dubbed “Sandhurst in the Sand”, has processed 4,295 officers, including 245 women, and we were given exclusive access, watching several hundred more officers graduate.

The top cadet, a local girl we agreed not to name, was praised for her “outstanding work and leadership skills”.

After she received an honorary sword, she swore to “serve my country with honour”.

As part of the 200,000-strong Afghan National Army, she may soon be concentrating on the growing threat from IS in the Khorasan Province.

IS has been here for four years, peaking at 4,000 fighters, but now reduced to around 1,000. Terrorist Khalid Masood trained in Afghanistan before killing five people in the Westminster Bridge attack in 2017.

Yesterday, it was reported that IS chiefs are planning atrocities across Europe.



Afghan National Army Brigadier General Insanullah Axim

The documents ask IS boss Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi for $10,000 (£7,600) to fund attacks similar to those carried out in Paris in 2015 which killed 130 people.

Lieutenant Colonel Chris Conroy, CO of 1 Royal Gurkha Rifles, heads up the “advisor force protection” group which runs more than 80 close protection missions a day in Kabul.

He said: “The Westminster attacker, who had spent a number of years in Afghanistan, came back to the UK. We need to keep the homeland safe.”

Who’s who of Afghan terrorism

Afghan Taliban (numbers 40,000)

Ruled cruelly until the post-9-11 invasion, after they were accused of harbouring Osama bin Laden. The group has links to Pakistan but unlike the Pakistan Taliban is not interested in attacking the West – just getting rid of foreign troops.

Islamic State in the Khorasan (numbers 1,000, reduced from 4,000)

Terrorists at war with all of Afghanistan, including the Taliban. They are allied to IS and formed in 2014 after an Iraqi delegation visited.

Haqqani Network (numbers around 8,000)

They are the “Sopranos” of the Afghan war, a Taliban offshoot pledged to attack the Kabul regime and NATO.

They got the nickname because they are run Mafia-style. The Haqqanis have their Pashtun roots in south-east Afghanistan and have ties with the Taliban.

Role of our soldiers has changed with their achievements

The job of the British soldier has altered significantly in Afghanistan.

Sergeant Scott Murray, 35, had three tours in Helmand when fighting was at its most violent.

He is close to finishing another six-month tour, his fourth, making it four years here with 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment.

And he has seen a change in tempo in fighting.

He said: “My first tour in Helmand in 2007 was force-on-force, next time we were fighting an insurgency with IEDs everywhere. It’s different now. I can see what’s been achieved.”

BREAKOUT 2

A boy as young as eight is feared to be the youngest Briton killed with Isis.

Isaac Ali was forced to go to Syria with his parents and died in a Western air strike which killed his dad Hussein.

His mum Nicole and three sisters have reportedly been found at a detention camp.

Isaac of west London was eight on his arrival in 2015, but the raid’s date is not known. The youngest known Brit killed with Isis was 12.

Isaac’s gran Charleen Jack-Henry called his father Hussein “wicked and evil”.

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