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U.S.-Backed Afghan Forces Move To Clear Nangarhar Of Militants

Afghan soldiers conduct a security check during operations in Achin earlier in 2018.
Afghan soldiers conduct a security check during operations in Achin earlier in 2018.

U.S.-backed Afghan special forces have conducted what could be a final operation to clear Islamic State (IS) fighters and other insurgents from a remote district in the eastern Nangarhar Province, officials say.

Lieutenant Colonel Josh Thiel of the U.S. First Special Forces Group on July 8 said the latest operation had been centered on the area around Deh Bala, next to the district of Achin and near where the U.S. military dropped its largest nonnuclear bomb in 2017.

"This was one of the main green zones that did two things. One, it provided money, finance, logistics to ISIS and we've taken that away from them," Thiel said, using an alternate name for the IS group.

"Additionally, ISIS was using this as a site to prepare and move high-profile attacks on Kabul and Jalalabad," he said, adding that recent activities had included final mine-clearance operations.

The Nangarhar provincial government said a U.S. air strike was carried out late on July 8 in Achin district near the Pakistani border, killing at least four militants loyal to the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) group.

The ISKP militants moved into Nangarhar four years ago and have been accused of brutality against civilians, including executions by beheading or explosion.

Insurgents had been using the area to raise funds through illegal logging and talc mining, as well as exploiting local villagers.

The overall assault, which began at the end of April, involved three companies of Afghan commandoes supported by U.S. air strikes and U.S. Special Forces.

Troops were ferried in by helicopter, and an operations base was set up near the village of Gargari, near where IS fighters were trying to establish a stronghold.

Heavy fighting ended in early June after 167 Islamic State militants were killed and large quantities of equipment captured, officials said.

The NATO-led Resolute Support operation has backed the government in Kabul in its fight against IS, Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and other militants, mainly by training and advising Afghan security forces.

The U.S.-led coalition has also provided air support as part of counterterrorism activities.

The Afghan Ministry of Defense on July 8 said its security forces had doubled their offensive operations against insurgents since the end of the government's unilateral cease-fire directed toward the Taliban.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani declared an end to the truce, but he also called on the Taliban to resume peace negotiations. IS was not part of the cease-fire.

The cease-fire lasted 18 days in all, after it was extended once and coincided with a three-day Taliban truce.

Along with Nangarhar, Afghan forces say they are focusing their fight against insurgents in Kunar, Farah, Helmand, Kunduz, Faryab, Uruzgan, and Ghazni provinces.

Nangarhar was the site of an attack on July 1 by a suicide bomber that targeted a group of Hindus and Sikhs, killing at least 20 people.

Afghan officials said the suicide bomber targeted the Hindus and Sikhs on their way to meet Ghani, who was visiting the provincial capital, Jalalabad.

With reporting by Reuters, Tolo News, and Khaama Press