Afghan policemen Muteiallah Safi stood on a hill, carrying his machine gun, and looked at the expanse of forests in front of him in the northeastern Afghan province of Kunar.
He then looked at his colleague and pointed with his finger.
“This is one of the strongholds of ISIS in Khorasan after the group captured it from the Taliban,” Safi said.
ISIS declared the founding of its province in Afghanistan in 2015, soon after some Afghan militants swore allegiance to it.
Now, the organization turns the forests of Kunar, which it captured from the Taliban, into its stronghold, according to Foreign Policy Magazine.
A number of Afghan, Pakistani and Bengali militants joined the organization after it took root in Afghanistan. Infamous terrorist Hafez Saeed Khan was instrumental in this in 2015.
ISIS used the Afghan forests in bankrolling its operations. It uses the forests in the smuggling of wood between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
It cuts forest trees in contravention of a government ban on this since 2016. The ban was aimed at keeping the lid on desertification in Afghanistan.
Pine, oak, and walnut trees cover vast areas in Kunar. Nevertheless, the space covered by the trees shrank to less than 40% of the province in the past years because of the continual cutting of the trees.
Kunar Deputy Police Chief Col. Mohamed Youssef revealed that cutting the trees was the second most serious threat facing the province after ISIS.
Mohamed Kamel, one of those working in the wood industry in the province, said ISIS uses the forests in cutting the trees and smuggling them to Pakistan.
He estimated the number of trees cut and smuggled to the neighboring country every year at 20,000.
“Financial returns from the cutting and the smuggling of the trees go to ISIS,” Kamel said.
He explained that the organization bankrolls its operations from these financial returns.
Local sources in Kunar estimate the number of ISIS affiliates in the province at between 1,000 and 2,000.
“The wood trade brings in a lot of money for the organization,” the sources said.