The Afghan president has that the Islamic State (IS) militants have been crushed in a restive eastern province where they have controlled large swathes of territories for many years.
“A year ago, no one could have thought that we will be announcing to have finished off Daesh here in Nangarhar,” Afghan President Ashraf Ghani told tribal volunteers in Nangarhar’s capital, Jalalabad, on November 19. Daesh is an Arabic-language acronym for IS that is widely used in Afghanistan to refer to the ultra-radical group.
The announcement comes days after officials in Nangarhar said that hundreds of IS fighters have surrendered in recent weeks. “What you have achieved though smart tactics could not be achieved through big bombs, airstrikes, and commando raids,” Ghani said.
Officials in eastern Afghanistan say hundreds of fighters loyal to IS have surrendered over the past week.
On November 17, Nangarhar’s provincial governor Shah Mahmood Miakhel said that some 225 IS fighters and nearly 400 women and children from their families had surrendered to the Afghan forces this month. He said most surrendered fighters were Pakistanis and that they had cleansed 95 percent of Nangarhar’s mountainous territory of IS and Taliban.
“We have eliminated their capacity to carry out large attacks, suicide and car bombings,” he noted. “Their remaining fighters are dispersed in small groups, most of whom are on the run or hiding.”
Ghani said that he will hand over the family members of IS fighters to their relatives in Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province. “I will not hand them over to [the government of Pakistan] but instead will hand them over to their relatives,” he told tribal leaders. “You can then decide about the fate of the IS fighters. I will back your decision.”
IS first emerged in Nangarhar’s Shinwar and Nazyan districts in early 2015 and established control over six of the province’s 22 districts. The group survived years of Afghan and U.S. military operations and fighting with the Taliban. Its predominantly foreign fighters reportedly committed harsh atrocities against Afghan civilians in Nangarhar by killing hundreds and forcing tens of thousands to flee. IS also claims credit for targeting civilians in Kabul and Jalalabad.
If sustained, the loss of its safe havens in Nangarhar might prove a major blow to IS in Afghanistan. Kabir Haqmal, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s national security council, however, says that despite its defeat in Nangarhar, IS will figure as a threat in Afghanistan. “Efforts to eliminate this group are still underway,” he said.
Lawmaker Naimatullah Karyab represents the eastern province of Kunar in the Afghan Parliament. He says that despite the apparent defeat of IS in Nangarhar its threat still looms in neighboring Kunar, where its fighters are active in several forested mountainous districts.
Karyab is urging Afghan forces to swiftly follow up on the gains in Nangarhar.
“It is natural that Daesh fighter will retreat to Kunar when they face pressure in Nangarhar because it is easy to move between the two provinces,” he told Radio Free Afghanistan. “For now, the threat posed by Daesh has not been completely eliminated in eastern Afghanistan.”
Kunar Governor Abdul Sattar Mirzakwal says they are planning swift military action against IS.
Abubakar Siddique wrote this story based on Ikramullah Ikram’s reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan.