Two Chinese militants among seven killed in anti-terrorism operation in Afghanistan
Mission led by Afghan National Army’s 209th Shaheen Corp took place in Badakhshan province, close to China border
Two Chinese militants were killed in an operation by Afghan military forces in the country’s northeast on Friday, which left at least seven people dead and 13 injured, according to local media reports.
The operation took place in Afghanistan’s remote Badakhshan province, a volatile area close to the border with China that is known for anti-government insurgency activities, the Kabul-based agency Pajhwok Afghan News reported.
The Afghan National Army’s 209th Shaheen Corps confirmed the casualties, and identified one of those killed as a man named Mustafa, who was the deputy leader of a Chinese militant group, the report said.
It did not name the group or the other Chinese national.
The Afghan government said earlier there were as many as 21 militant groups operating in Afghanistan, including the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, a separatist organisation formed by members of China’s Uygur ethnic minority.
Friday’s operation, code-named “Koktcha-18”, was part of a nationwide offensive, the report said. It took place along Afghanistan’s 76km border with the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, a restive area of China’s far west that is home to about 10 million people, mostly Muslims.
Beijing has blamed the East Turkestan Islamic Movement of several terrorist attacks within China and has long feared Badakhshan could become a base for the al-Qaeda-linked militant group, which claims to be fighting for independence for the Uygur people.
In a meeting in December in Beijing, Xu Qiliang, deputy chairman of China’s Central Military Commission, told Tariq Shah Bahrami, Afghanistan’s acting defence minister, that China would “strengthen military exchanges and anti-terrorism cooperation with Afghanistan to ensure security between the two nations and the region”.
Officials also discussed plans to set up a military base in Badakhshan, which Afghan representatives said Beijing would help to finance, Agence France-Presse reported at the time.
The United States military is also targeting militants in northern Afghanistan. According to a Nato statement released in early February, US troops had conducted air operations to strike at Taliban training facilities in Badakhshan, preventing the planning and rehearsal of terrorist acts by groups including the East Turkestan Islamic Movement near the border with China and Tajikistan.
Chinese nationals are known to be fighting as jihadists in Afghanistan and elsewhere, although their actual number is unknown.
Within China, state forces are engaged in a wide-reaching security crackdown and surveillance operation in Xinjiang, which Beijing says is in the name of combating terrorism, but which rights groups and activists say constitutes the suppression of the native Uygur people’s cultural and religious rights.