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June 19, 2017 09:42 PM EDT
WATCH | Circa’s Sara Carter obtained a recently released propaganda video from ISIS showing multiple executions of ISIS militants thought to be Russian spies.
A recently released ISIS video from Afghanistan warns Moscow that the group is aware it’s been infiltrated by Russia’s spy agency and threatens to target Russia and its assets.
It accuses multiple ISIS fighters of being agents of Russia’s Federal Security Service Bureau, formerly called the KGB. The men are forced under duress to admit they are agents for the FSB before they are beheaded or shot in the head.
In the video, the ISIS militant, who also claims to be Russian, says several men came with him from Russia to fight in Afghanistan’s jihad against the West. The men appear to have been interrogated and say, “we are agents of Russia.”
“It wouldn’t be surprising to have Russian intelligence attempting to penetrate ISIS in Afghanistan or recruiting agents to gather intelligence on the terrorist network,” said a U.S. official with knowledge of the region. “But Russian intervention in the region goes far beyond Moscow’s concern for ISIS.”
The Afghan arm of ISIS, known as ISIS Khorasan, has been steadily recruiting young Muslim Russians from Central Asia to help build its ranks. Those numbers are estimated to be in the hundreds, Afghan and U.S. intelligence officials told Circa.
The group is a faction of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), which formed in 1998 and is considered by Russia to be a serious terror threat.
The terror group mostly recruits Uzbek, Tajiks, Afghans and people from Turkmenistan. It joined ISIS in 2015.
Russian officials claim they are attempting to curtail the growing ISIS threat by supplying weapons and political support to the Taliban, but U.S. intelligence and military officials are weary of Moscow’s exertion of influence in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
“We’ve seen an increased supply of weapons and other resources being supplied to the Taliban from Russia,” said a U.S. contractor in the region, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the nature of their work.
It is a situation that has become precarious for the Trump administration, which is reassessing its own strategy in Afghanistan.
The Taliban continues to strengthen, and ISIS safe-havens in the eastern provinces have threatened stability for the Afghan fragile government.
Defense Secretary James Mattis told lawmakers at a Senate Armed Services Committee on June 13 that “we are not winning in Afghanistan right now. We will correct this as soon as possible.”
And in April, Mattis said it is imperative to understand Russia’s role in the region.
In Pakistan, Russia’s role is not as concerning. Defense analyst and former Pakistan Army retired Brigadier Gen. Mehmood Shah told Circa that Russia, Pakistan, and China have found a common enemy in ISIS.
“[ISIS] now has a stronghold in several districts in the eastern Afghan province of Nangrahar, which borders with Pakistan,” he said.
“But its seems the group is trying to expand itself into northern Afghanistan, bordering with Central Asian republics, and that’s the reason the Russians and Chinese want to eliminate them from Afghanistan,” Shah said.
In the ISIS video, the executioner claiming to be Russian says “we will take our revenge on Russia,” for what it claims are war crimes committed by Russia’s government in Syria.
On Thursday, Russian officials announced that an airstrike on May 28, in Raqqa, Syria, may have killed ISIS’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, but U.S. officials still have not confirmed the death.
Afghanistan is at a tipping point and can’t be ignored– Senior U.S. official
U.S. officials say increased Russian involvement in the region is concerning, despite the common goal for both nations in eliminating ISIS.
Over the past several years, the U.S. military — which is now at only 8,400 troops in the region, down from more than 100,000 in 2011 — has lost many of the gains made in the nearly 16-year war.
“Afghanistan is at a tipping point and can’t be ignored,” said another U.S. official, who has direct knowledge of the region. “ISIS is only part of the story — but if we don’t address the problem Russia may address it for us, and certainly not in the best interest of our own nation.”
Afghan intelligence officials told Circa they estimate ISIS has roughly 3,000 fighters. Several hundred fighters are believed to be Russian and Central Asian, while 400 are believed to be Chinese Uyghurs, Muslim people from the western area of China.
ISIS has established sanctuaries in eastern Nangrahar province, where U.S. and Afghan forces have been working to eliminate the group.
It is believed at least several hundred have arrived from Syria over the past year.
This is what a high-ranking Afghan intelligence officer told Circa on condition of anonymity as he is not authorized to speak the media.