U.N. concerned by Islamic State's ability to unite Afghan insurgents

By Michelle Nichols UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United Nations is concerned by the presence of Islamic State in Afghanistan but says the militant group's power to unite insurgents is more significant than its capabilities in the war-torn country, a top U.N. official said on Monday. U.N. envoy Nicholas Haysom briefed the U.N. Security Council on Afghanistan, where attempts are under way to broker an end to 13 years of conflict between the Taliban, who were ousted in a U.S.-led war in 2001, and Afghan and foreign forces. Afghan forces killed 10 fighters who claimed to be part of Islamic State on Sunday, amid reports that growing numbers of disgruntled Taliban fighters have joined the militant group that has seized swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq. "It is UNAMA's (the U.N. mission in Afghanistan) assessment that the group's presence is of concern, but that ISIL's significance is not so much a function of its intrinsic capacities in the area but of its potential to offer an alternative flagpole to which otherwise isolated insurgent splinter groups can rally," Haysom told the council. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's latest report to the Security Council on Afghanistan said a handful of Taliban commanders had declared allegiance to Islamic State and that an increasing number were seeking funding or cooperation with Islamic State. "There is no indication of widespread or systematic support for or accommodation of ISIL in Afghanistan," the report said. The radical Islamist group has declared a caliphate in the territory it controls in Syria and Iraq. A U.S.-led alliance has been targeting Islamic State with air strikes in Iraq and Syria for some six months. Militants loyal to Islamic State have also been exploiting chaos in Libya, while Boko Haram, which is seeking to carve an Islamist emirate out of northeastern Nigeria, has pledged its allegiance to Islamic State. In Afghanistan, Haysom said there was "an alignment of circumstances that could be conducive to fostering peace talks" between the Afghan government and the Taliban. Officials said last month the Afghan Taliban has signaled it is willing to open peace talks. Afghanistan's army and police suffered heavy losses last year, the bloodiest since the war began. Some 3,699 Afghan civilians were killed in 2014, said the United Nations. Haysom said the United Nations "continues a frank dialogue with the Taliban on humanitarian access and on human rights." (Reporting by Michelle Nichols; editing by Andrew Hay)