Afghan forces have launched a new offensive aimed at reclaiming two remote districts from the Islamic State (IS) militants in eastern Afghanistan.
Afghan officials in eastern Nangarhar Province said the offensive aims to reclaim the mountainous Kot and Haska Maina districts along Afghanistan’s eastern border with Pakistan.
“We expected this offensive to be more effective than previous initiatives,” provincial spokesman Attaullah Khogiani told journalists on February 12. “We have planned to hand over the security of the villages and communities we recapture from IS to local volunteer forces under the supervision of the National Directorate of Security (Afghan spy agency).”
Khogiani said the offensive will be called Shafaq IV and will be a marked improvement on past operations. “We will be relying on close air support from our international partners,” he said, referring to the NATO mission in the country tasked with supporting counterterrorism operations in addition to training Afghan forces.
Afghan military spokesman Shirin Aqa said the offensive will continue until Afghan forces win back Kot and Haska Maina.
“We cannot predict when exactly we will be able to conclude the offensive in Kot and Haska Maina, but we will press on until we eradicate Daesh from there,” he told journalists, referring to the extremist group, which now controls large parts of Syria and Iraq, by its Arabic acronym.
Brigadier General Charles Cleveland, the U.S. military spokesman in Afghanistan, said U.S. forces are supporting the offensive. “We can confirm that the United States is providing combat-enabling support, to include air support, to our Afghan partners,” he told VOA.
General John Nicholson, commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, gave a Senate panel an upbeat prognosis of the fight against IS.
“The Afghan government, along with the U.S. counterterrorism forces, are successfully fighting against IS in Afghanistan,” he told the Senate Armed Services Committee on February 9. “In this year alone, we have reduced their fighters by half, their territory by two-thirds. We've killed their leader, in fact their top 12 leaders, and continue to disrupt their operations."
Nicholson said most IS fighters in Afghanistan are former members of the Pakistani Taliban.
Operating under the name of Khorasan Province, IS first emerged in Nangarhar in early 2015. It soon swept nine districts of the province. But its reliance on extreme violence soon provoked local uprisings and prompted the Afghan government to launch an offensive.
The ultra-radical group also challenged the Taliban, which prompted them to publically warn the IS leader, Abubakar Al-Baghdadi, and fought against cells of his followers across Afghanistan.
While IS has lost control over most territories it overran in Nangarhar, it is still active in a few districts.