KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghanistan's president declared on Tuesday that Islamic State militants are "on the run" in his country, following a massive military operation that included elite commando units which drove the insurgents out of remote districts on the border with Pakistan.
Ashraf Ghani attributed the success in dislodging IS loyalists to ground operations, combined with close air support and the participation of retired commanders who had joined an elite commando division of the army to take on the extremists in districts of eastern Nangarhar province.
Over the past six months, IS fighters — mostly disenchanted Taliban insurgents — had dug in across Nangarhar. The Unites States largely provides air support in the anti-militant struggle in Afghanistan.
IS gunmen had fought for control of some remote districts on the Nangarhar border with Taliban, who had previously had a foothold in the region. Initially, Afghan security forces let the two groups fight each other, as their assets were spread thin fighting insurgents elsewhere. The valleys and mountains of the border region provide perfect cover for trafficking of mean, weapons, drugs, minerals and other contraband that provide millions of dollars in funding for the insurgency.
Officials have said most militants claiming loyalty to IS are former Taliban fighters disillusioned with a lack of progress toward their goal of overthrowing the Kabul government. The Taliban's war is now in its 15th year.
"I promised the people of Nangarhar that no quarter would be given to Daesh, and none has been given," Ghani said, using an alternative name for the Islamic State group. "In Nangarhar, Daesh is on the run."
With Afghan forces under pressure since the end of the U.S.-NATO combat mission in 2014, concerns have risen that they are struggling against the insurgency alone.
The Taliban intensified and spread their fight last year, testing the resolve and capacity of the Afghan forces. With the training and backup of the pared-down U.S.-NATO mission, the Afghan army and police, who also fight on the front lines, are slowly developing a defensive capability.
Ghani was speaking at a joint press conference with the Secretary General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, who is visiting Afghanistan for two days.