KABUL (Reuters) – U.S. forces in Afghanistan have attacked networks of anti-China militants in action likely to please Beijing which had called for Western cooperation in its fight against the group it says wants to split off its Xinjiang region.
The strikes in northern Afghanistan’s Badakhshan province destroyed Taliban training camps which support militant operations in Afghanistan as well as operations by the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) in the border region with China and Tajikistan, Afghanistan’s NATO-led mission said in a release on Thursday.
“The U.S. strikes in support Afghanistan in reassuring its neighbors that it is not a safe sanctuary for terrorists who want to carry out cross-border operations,” it said.
The force gave no more details about the attacks or any estimate of casualties but it said the ETIM was behind attacks both inside and outside China and two of its members had been involved in a 2002 plot to bomb the U.S. Embassy in Kyrgyzstan.
“They pose a threat to China and enjoy support from the Taliban in Badakhshan and throughout the border region,” the force said.
The group is drawn from members of China’s Uighur minority, a mostly Muslim Turkic-speaking people who inhabit the Xinjiang region in China’s far west.
China has long been concerned that instability in Afghanistan could spill over into Xinjiang.
Hundreds of people have been killed in violence in recent years in Xinjiang. Beijing blames the bloodshed on Islamist militants and separatists, though rights groups say the unrest is more a reaction to repressive Chinese policies.
The United States, Britain and the United Nations have listed the ETIM as a terrorist group.
(Reporting by Robert Birsel; Editing by Alison Williams)