Afghan officials say they have recaptured an important tunnel complex from the Islamic State (IS) fighters in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar.
Defense Ministry spokesman General Dawlat Waziri said Afghan units recaptured Tora Bora in Nangarhar’s Pachir Wa Agam district on June 18.
The mountainous tunnel complex near the Khyber Pass in the remote region once served as a hideout for Al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden.
“Our forces have now completely surrounded Tora Bora, and fighting has ended,” he told Radio Free Afghanistan. “Daesh (local name for IS) has left the region. Our forces are reporting to have killed six IS fighters while six more are wounded. The enemy has left behind a large cache of weapons.”
Waziri said Afghan forces are now slowly clearing the forested region because of fears of mines and other unexploded ordnance.
Last week, an audio recording on IS’s Radio Khilafat station said their black IS flag was now flying over the extensive cave and tunnel complex after defeating the Taliban in a fierce battle.
While several unidentified local officials and elders confirmed IS overran Tora Bora and surrounding areas, provincial officials in Nangarhar’s capital, Jalalabad, denied the ultra-radical militant group had captured the tunnel complex. The Taliban, too, denied losing Tora Bora to IS.
Hundreds of families fled Pachir Wa Agam because of intense fighting during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, when all adults are required to fast between dawn and dusk.
Waziri says that to prevent IS from returning to Tora Bora, authorities were working with local communities.
“Local volunteers and local forces are ready to protect their region against future IS incursions,” he said. “The Defense Ministry is ready to support them in whatever way possible.”
As a young Arab volunteer to the anti-Soviet Afghan Jihad in the 1980s, bin Laden, a civil engineer, contributed to building the tunnel complex in Tora Bora. It was named Al Masada or The Lion’s Den in Arabic.
In late 2001, bin Laden and his key loyalists hid in Tora Bora’s warren of caves during the U.S. led military strikes that toppled the Taliban regime and forced Al-Qaeda to abandon its sanctuaries in Afghanistan.
The U.S. invasion was prompted by the September 11, 2001, terror attacks. More than 3,000 people died when Al-Qaeda hijackers crashed airliners into the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington.
The IS emerged in Nangarhar in early 2015 and reached the peak of its power by capturing large swathes of the region along Afghanistan eastern border with Pakistan that summer.
Two years later, the group still holds some remote Nangarhar territories despite numerous operations by Afghan and U.S. forces. Nangarhar is the only region where IS has successfully prevented the Taliban from wiping them out.