Fighters for the Islamic State (ISIS) Afghanistan branch have decreased by more than half as a result of U.S.-led coalition airstrikes and attacks from Taliban fighters in the country, a new report shows.
Though an exact number of ISIS militants present in the country is difficult to discern, the terror group has lost more than half of its fighters in the country, according to a Pentagon inspector general report published last week. The estimate was presented to the inspector general’s office by U.S. Forces – Afghanistan, who also estimated ISIS had between 2,000 and 5,000 fighters in the country as of September 2019.
The ISIS Afghanistan branch lost its primary hold out in the country’s Nangarhar province in November. Some 300 of the terror groups fighters subsequently surrendered to Afghan government forces as a result of coalition efforts in the area.
Though U.S. and Taliban forces have recently adopted a seven day “reduction in violence” agreement, ISIS is not a party to the cease fire and U.S. airstrikes have reportedly continued to target ISIS positions throughout the ongoing peace term. The peace term is set to last from Feb. 22, to Feb. 29 after which the involved Afghan parties are hopeful to sign a peace deal that could allow U.S. forces to withdraw from the country.
Early on Thursday morning, U.S. Forces Afghanistan spokesman Col. Sonny Leggett, indicated continued airstrikes killed three more ISIS fighters and forced the surrender of 34 more of the group’s members.
Airstrikes killed 3 #ISIS fighters in #Kunar, #Afghanistan Feb. 26. B/C of strikes, 34 ISIS fighters surrendered to #Afghan security forces in Tswokey district the same day. US Forces stand by & support our #ThisIsANDSF partners while upholding #RIV agreement.
— USFOR-A Spokesman Col Sonny Leggett (@USFOR_A) February 27, 2020
Leggett’s Thursday comments come just days after he tweeted about other U.S. strikes in the Kunar province, which neighbors the former ISIS Afghan stronghold in Nangarhar.
The US conducted two airstrikes today in Kunar, #Afghanistan, killing 4 #ISIS fighters. We continue to eliminate ISIS terrorists wherever they hide to protect Afghanistan while honoring US-Afghan-Taliban agreement to reduce the violence.
— USFOR-A Spokesman Col Sonny Leggett (@USFOR_A) February 25, 2020
The newest inspector general report does assess the Taliban has also played a key role in repelling ISIS’ presence in the country.
“Following months of sustained pressure from both the United States and the Taliban, ISIS-K militants in Nangarhar surrendered en masse,” the IG report indicated.
Concerns about the Taliban returning to power and fostering terror groups within the country has been a persistent concern of U.S. officials weighing how to close out operations in the country. Concerns have also persisted around the possibility of an ISIS resurgence in which the terror group regains territorial holdings.
A Taliban leader indicated, in a recent New York Times op-ed, that the Taliban is wary of years of continued conflict and opposes foreign terror groups entering the country to “turn it into a battleground.”