The ISIS Afghan branch has been “defeated” in one of the key eastern provinces where it first sought to establish a stronghold, a top Afghan security official said Sunday.
The claim comes after extremists first burst into Afghanistan’s conflict in 2015, when they overran large parts of Nangarhar and Kunar provinces, near the Pakistan border.
In the years since, they have claimed responsibility for a string of horrific bombings across Afghanistan, including at a wedding hall in Kabul, and have been continually attacked by US, Afghan and even Taliban forces.
ISIS “were defeated in Nangarhar, their centers were destroyed”, acting interior minister Massoud Andarabi told reporters in Jalalabad, the Nangarhar provincial capital, amid ongoing operations against the extremists.
“We will soon destroy their last centers. With the people’s help, we will completely eliminate them. Some of their smaller groups are surrendering, other small groups will be eliminated in other provinces.”
He went on to say that ISIS were being “completely defeated” in Afghanistan.
US Forces-Afghanistan, which closely monitors the ISIS footprint in Afghanistan, declined to comment, referring a query back to the Interior Ministry.
Attaullah Khogyani, the spokesman for Nangarhar’s governor, said 32 ISIS fighters surrendered to government forces on Saturday.
“They are coming in big numbers,” he told AFP.
ISIS have suffered a string of major defeats in recent months, including the collapse of their self-proclaimed “caliphate” in Syria and the death of the group’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who was killed in a US raid in Syria last month.
Connections between Baghdadi and the ISIS affiliate in Afghanistan, better known as ISIS in the Khorasan, or IS-K, have always been murky.
But Khogyani said Baghdadi’s death had disrupted IS-K’s command and control structure.
“It has affected the fighters on the ground here, they are either surrendering to the government or going back to their ordinary lives,” he said.