Afghan special forces fight IS; Taleban kill 15 policemen

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghan special forces launched a new offensive against the Islamic State (IS) group in eastern Nangarhar province, killing 27 militants, officials said yesterday. Meanwhile, Taleban attacks in northern Afghanistan killed 15 members of the country’s security forces.

According to provincial council member Ajmal Omar, the special forces, backed by helicopter gunships, targetted IS in Achin district of Nangarhar on Monday. The province has been an IS stronghold and the site where the militant group’s regional branch first emerged a few years ago.

The militants’ media arm, the Aamaq news agency, claimed IS repulsed a joint Afghan-United States (US) operation in the area.

Omar, who could not confirm whether US troops took part in the operation, said two local IS leaders, Sediq Yar and Syed Omar, were among those killed. The remoteness of the area makes it impossible to independently investigate conflicting reports.

In the north, the Taleban launched two blistering attacks on police outposts in Sar-e-Pul province last Monday night, killing 15 policemen and wounding 21, the latest in near-daily assaults by the insurgents against Afghanistan’s beleaguered security forces.

Fierce gunbattles raged for several hours in Sayyad district and outside Sar-e-Pul, the provincial capital. In the attack on the outskirts of the city, heavy artillery fire by Afghan forces trying to repel the Taleban sent local residents fleeing for safety, said provincial council chief Mohammad Noor Rahmani.

Taleban spokesman Qari Yousof Ahmadi claimed responsibility for both attacks in Sar-e-Pul province.

The Taleban have been carrying out near-daily attacks targetting Afghan forces despite stepped-up efforts by the US to find a negotiated end to the country’s 17-year war.

The size and strength of the IS affiliate in Afghanistan, which emerged in 2013, is estimated at anywhere between several hundred and several thousand fighters. The group comprises mostly of disgruntled Taleban fighters and Uzbek militants of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, as well as Pakistani militants who were driven out of Pakistan’s tribal region along the border with Afghanistan.

The relentless violence and deteriorating security battering Afghanistan comes as President Donald Trump is expected to order the withdrawal in the summer of 7,000 US soldiers.

There are currently about 14,000 US troops in Afghanistan, mostly carrying out training and assisting the Afghan forces who took over the defence of their country in 2014. There are also 7,100 soldiers from other NATO and partnering countries still stationed in Afghanistan.