Top US generals believe the rivalry and clashes between the Taliban and Islamic State-Khorasan will help counter the growing influence in Afghanistan of the terror group led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, according to media reports.
Intensified efforts to root out the Islamic State in Afghanistan are making progress in some areas but have failed to prevent the group from maintaining a foothold in the country, according to the latest US intelligence estimates, VOA reported.
Islamic State-Khorasan is believed to have more than 1,000 fighters, including local Afghans, Pakistanis and Uzbeks. Most of them are in southern Nangarhar province and a small number in eastern Kunar province.
Over the past few months, the US may have been able to turn the rivalry between the Taliban and Islamic State to its advantage, the report said.
“The Taliban are fighting ISIS, and we encourage that because ISIS needs to be destroyed,” said Gen John Nicholson, commander of US forces in Afghanistan.
In northern Jowzjan province, the combination of what US officials described as a series of “intensive operations” against Islamic State-Khorasan, along with a Taliban ground campaign, appears to have paid off. The Taliban recently announced that all the northern provinces had been purged of Daesh militias.
About 250 Islamic State-Khorasan fighters and their commander, Habib Rahman, who surrendered last week, are currently in Afghan custody. US and Afghan officials have said they will be prosecuted for their crimes “to the fullest extent of the law”.
Gen Joseph Votel, commander of the US Central Command, said on Wednesday that the military campaign against Islamic State has been effective and it was partly responsible for last week’s surrenders.
While foreign forces are applying military pressure on the Taliban to convince them to enter talks with the Afghan government, he said the same policy wouldn’t apply to the Islamic State. “We have no illusions about reconciliation with ISIS-K. Our mission is to destroy this organization,” Votel was quoted as saying by Tolo News.
Islamic State “is not a popular insurgency in Afghanistan” and “everybody is against them”, he added. “Taking ISIS-Khorasan fighters off the battlefield through attrition or surrender will make not only Afghanistan a safer place, but also protects the US, its partners and allies,” he said.
But US defense and intelligence officials are wary of declaring victory over a terror group that has found ways to repeatedly regroup and grow. “There is hard fighting ahead,” US defence secretary Jim Mattis told reporters this week. “I don’t declare victory until it’s in the rearview mirror.”