A French woman fighting for ISIL has been detained in Afghanistan, officials said Friday, as fears grow that members of the extremist group who fled Syria and Iraq are finding their way to the country.
The woman was captured during a military operation in the northern province of Jowzjan — an ISIL stronghold — on Thursday night, several officials said.
"In a joint operation between NDS and Afghan special forces, five Afghan men and a French woman fighting for ISIL were arrested in Darzab district of Jowzjan," the National Directorate of Security (NDS), Afghanistan's spy agency, said in a statement.
The Defence Ministry confirmed that a "French insurgent woman was among those detained". It said six ISIL fighters were also killed.
Afghan officials did not clarify how they identified the woman's nationality. One described her as "French speaking". They provided no further details about the woman or where she had come from.
Agence France-Presse recently reported that French and Algerian fighters, some arriving from Syria, had joined the group's Afghan franchise in Jowzjan.
Provincial police chief Faqir Mohammad Jawzjani said that US forces were also involved in Thursday's operation.
"Four Daesh fighters were killed and one French woman … was also detained," Mr Jawzjani said.
He said two other French ISIL fighters were killed in the province recently.
Mr Jawzjani said Afghan and US forces took the woman into custody — which was confirmed by the provincial governor's spokesman Reza Ghafoori.
But a US military spokesman for the Nato-led Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan declined to respond and referred questions to the NDS.
Afghan and US special forces have ramped up air strikes and ground offensives against ISIL fighters in Jowzjan in recent months, which the Americans say have "disrupted" the group's capacity to use foreign fighters.
In January, Afghan forces caught the group's "head facilitator of foreign forces". Two months later, his two successors were killed in a US air strike, a Resolute Support statement on Thursday said.
US and Afghan forces conducted a "night-time raid" on Thursday in Mughul village in Darzab, the statement added. It made no mention of a French female fighter.
Most of the fighters in Jowzjan were "Pakistani Pashtun", General John Nicholson, commander of US and Nato forces in Afghanistan, said in the statement.
Some were from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and there was "probably 10 per cent that's from a variety of sources around the world", he added.
ISIL has a relatively small but potent presence in Afghanistan, mainly in the eastern province of Nangarhar and more recently Jowzjan. It also has cells in Kabul. But it is dwarfed by the much larger Taliban.