Islamic State fighters in Afghanistan killed dozens of Afghan soldiers and civilians Sunday, despite multiple claims from Kabul that the terrorist group was utterly defeated.
As recently as March, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani bragged about defeating ISIS in eastern Nangarhar province, which borders Pakistan. A U.S. military report estimates between 1000 and 3000 fighters throughout Afghanistan who have fought the Taliban for the opium rich territory. The Taliban relies heavily on opium production to fund its terrorist operations and has clashed with ISIS for control of Nangarhar province.
In some cases ISIS has been able to poach Taliban commanders both by paying high salaries and taking advantages of fractures in the Taliban movement. After the Taliban announced the death of their unifying leader, Mullah Omar, in July 2015 the terrorist group has been in a prolonged leadership crisis. The Taliban’s short-time divisive leader, Mullah Akhtar Mansour, was killed in a U.S. drone strike May 23.
Local officials told Agence France Presse the recent clashes had forced many civilians out of their home in Nangarhar province. The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) noted in December, “ISIS’s Wilayat Khorasan maintains an overt military and social presence in Nangarhar Province in eastern Afghanistan.”
ISIS in Afghanistan “is effective, operational, and positioned to expand,” and recommended the U.S. and NATO should “respond more aggressively to this threat,” ISW concluded.
In mid June, President Barack Obama authorized new rules of engagement for U.S. airstrikes in Afghanistan. Under the old rules of engagement, the U.S. was only allowed to intervene on behalf of the Afghan defense forces when it was about to suffer a particularly devastating military setback. Under the new rules of engagement, the U.S. can accompany Afghan forces when they’re offensively pursuing the Taliban to achieve a “strategic gain.”
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