Afghanistan’s hard-line Taliban insurgents and fighters loyal to the ultra-radical Islamic State (IS) militant group are locked in two provinces in the north and east of the country.
Afghan officials, lawmakers, and tribal leaders in eastern Nangarhar and northern Jawzjan provinces say scores of fighters have been killed in fierce clashes between the two extremist factions, which has also forced tens of thousands of civilians to flee their homes.
Attaullah Khogyani, a spokesman for Nangarhar’s governor, told journalists that civilians and fighters from both sides were killed in clashes over the weekend. He said the authorities are helping civilians displaced by the fighting after defeating IS in the region.
“More than 2,000 families have been displaced, and the government and aid agencies have begun distributing food items and other aid,” he told Radio Free Afghanistan late on October 29.
Lawmaker Haji Zahir Qadir represents Nangarhar in Wolesi Jirga or the lower house of the Afghan Parliament. He said local volunteers have reclaimed most territories from IS control in Khogyani district.
“Local volunteers have cleansed the region from Daesh (eds: local name of IS). They did so without the government’s help,” he told lawmakers.
But in photographs posted on social media over the weekend, the Khorasan Province -- IS’s name for its branch in Afghanistan and Pakistan -- showed gun-toting fighters purportedly celebrating a win against the Taliban in Khogyani.
The Taliban have not commented on the fighting. But a purported Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousaf Ahmadi, rejected recent claims by Afghan officials alleging that their current leader, Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada, had directed fighters to cease fighting IS.
The two rivals appear engaged in a similar battle in northern Jawzjan Province, where an IS cell overran large swathes of territory in Darzab and Qush-Teppa districts. The militants imposed harsh rules including closing most schools in Darzab.
Lutfullah Azizi, the governor of Jawzjan, says a week of clashes in the two districts forced more than 2,000 families to seek shelter in the provincial capital, Sheberghan.
“The fighting is intense, and more than 1,000 fighters are involved,” he told Radio Free Afghanistan. “Some 500 IS fighters are taking on 600 to 700 Taliban militants pushing to capture territory from IS.”
Azizi says he asked senior security officials to plan operations in Jawzjan. “With the winter setting in, we are very concerned,” he said.
Mohammad Radmanish, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s Defense Ministry, says Kabul is determined to defeat both the insurgent groups.
“People are happy with our operations. Anywhere that people feel threatened, we carefully plan our interventions,” he said.
Kabul’s approach to the rising violence and expanding militant control since the withdrawal of most NATO troops at the end of 2014 has been similar to firefighting.
While government forces constantly claim to be killing large numbers of insurgents, the Taliban and IS seem to have an expanding footprint.
On almost a daily basis, the insurgents claim to have overrun new territory and are able to launch incessant attacks even in regions that the authorities say they have reclaimed.
Abubakar Siddique wrote this story based on reporting by Radio Free Afghanistan correspondents Khan Muhammad Seend, Shah Mahmud Shinwari, and Mustafa Sarwar.