Saturday, January 14, 2017

Afghan Forces Drive IS From Remote District

The Afghan government said Friday that it had successfully completed a three-month-long cleanup operation against the Islamic State (IS) militant group in a remote eastern district of the country.

In recent days, “the IS group has been driven out of Pachiragam and the area is now free of IS fighters,” Shirin Aqa Faqir, a spokesperson for the Afghan army in Nangarhar, told VOA’s Afghan service.

Following their defeat earlier this week in Pachiragam, however, the IS fighters then stormed neighboring Kot district, targeting local militia forces in the area.

The militants set more than 60 homes afire Friday, provincial authorities and local residents said. Dozens of villagers were killed in the attack, and hundreds of families were displaced from their homes by the fighting, they added.

Local residents told VOA the terror group’s fighters were advancing toward the national police checkpoints in the area.

Local force

Nangarhar police chief Gul Aqa Rouhani told VOA that Afghan forces in the area were on high alert against the IS militants.

In Pachiragam, provincial authorities said local villagers had been enlisted in a militia force to ensure IS will not return to the area. Hundreds of area residents have signed up to join the militia, they said.

“We have deployed 500 local uprising members in 12 security checkposts and two large military bases to help protect the area,” Faqir said. “We have also created five national police checkposts on the Pachiragam-Chaparhar highway.”

The majority of the recruits will be phased into local police and Afghan security forces, Nangarhar’s police spokesperson, Hazrat Hussain Mashriqiwal, told VOA. The recruits have been put on the government payroll.

A military center has been established in the district, which would supply logistics and arms to the militia as needed, according to Faqir.

FILE - An Afghan soldier keeps watch during clashes with Islamic State militants in Kot district of Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, June 26 2016.

FILE – An Afghan soldier keeps watch during clashes with Islamic State militants in Kot district of Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, June 26 2016.


Afghan security forces began their counteroffensive against IS in October, shortly after the militant group attacked checkpoints manned by government-supported local militias in the Pachiragam district of eastern Nangarhar province, which borders Pakistan.

IS reportedly is holding at least 60 local militiamen who were taken hostage in December. The hostages have been taken from the district to neighboring areas where IS has a presence.

A delegation of tribal elders that attempted to secure the hostages’ release was sent back with orders from IS, including the demand for locals to “renew their marriages and Islamic faith.” According to IS, they had become infidels because they lived under and supported government forces.

The restive Kot district, which has about 160,000 residents, has been hit hard by IS militantcy. IS militants last summer launched a massive assault on various parts of Kot. Dozens of villagers were killed and hundreds displaced.

“They have ended the offensive against IS, but Taliban militants still exist in the area,” Hejratullah Rahmani, the Pachiragam district governor, told VOA.

Zabihullah Ghazi contributed to this report from Nangarhar.

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