ASADABAD, Afghanistan -- The escalating fighting between the hard-line Afghan Taliban and ultra-radical Islamic State (IS) has now reached a new frontline in Afghanistan.
According to a provincial governor, there were several casualties in ongoing clashes between the Taliban and IS militants in the eastern mountainous province of Nuristan this week.
Governor Hafiz Abdul Qayum told Radio Free Afghanistan that on June 27 scores of Taliban fighters continued to surround the village of their renegade commander, Noora.
“Noora was once a Taliban commander but has joined Daesh,” Qayum said of the fighting in the remote Qal-e Gal village in Waygal district of Nuristan, referring to IS by its local name, Daesh. “Three of Noora’s female relatives were injured in the fighting and one of his loyalists has been killed so far.”
Locals say Noora fled his house in Qal-e Gal but Taliban fighters continue to surround the entire village in the hope of forcing him to surrender.
“The Taliban have torched two houses [of his relatives and loyalists] in the besieged village of Qal-e Gal,” Qayum told Radio Free Afghanistan. “The Taliban and IS fighters continue to clash periodically as the Taliban push to capture Noora through door-to-door searches.”
The Taliban and IS have not commented on the fighting.
Lawmakers in Nuristan recently said IS is carving a new sanctuary in the region by recruiting from within its mountainous valleys.
Maulvi Ahmadullah Mohid, a Nuristan representative in the Afghan Parliament told Radio Free Afghanistan late last month that IS was active in five out of eight Nuristan districts, including Mandol, Duab, Nurgram, Waygal, and Wama. All are Alpine forested regions that provide ideal territory for guerrilla warfare.
“Their activities are gathering momentum every day. IS militants now virtually rule the regions outside government control alongside the Taliban,” Mohid said.
IS began pushing into Nuristan after Afghan and U.S. officials repeatedly claimed that an IS sanctuary in the eastern province of Nangarhar is rapidly shrinking because of relentless military operations.
IS first emerged in Nangarhar, nearly 100 kilometers south of Nuristan, in early 2015. The group soon overran several districts in the province along its eastern border with Pakistan. But Afghan and U.S. military officials now say the insurgents have lost most of the territories they once overran.
Last week, Afghan officials claimed to have recaptured an important tunnel complex from IS in Nangarhar. The warren of caves in the Tora Bora region once served as a hideout for Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden.
IS’s emergence in Afghanistan has met strong Taliban opposition. In June 2015, the late Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansur warned IS leader Abu Bakar Al-Baghdadi that they would be “forced to react to defend our achievements.”
Since then, militants from the two organizations have frequently clashed across Afghanistan while their covert war involving targeted assassinations has also extended into Pakistan.
Abubakar Siddique wrote this story based on Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent Rohullah Anwari’s reporting from Kunar, Afghanistan.