United States military officials said that US forces in Afghanistan would be upping the fight against ISIS-K or the Islamic State (IS), Khorasan Province branch, and are determined to defeat the group this year.
U.S. Navy Captain Bill Salvin, spokesperson for the Resolute Support headquarters in the capital Kabul told the Voice of America Afghan service: "Our goal in 2017 is to defeat ISIS-K in Afghanistan." The IS group has taken mountainous areas in the border province of Khorasan. However, the Afghan government claims that attacks have reduced the group's strength from several thousand fighters to under a thousand. The number of districts under IS control has been reduced from ten to less than five.Salvin claimed: "In 2016, we believed that year began with about 3,000 or so ISIS-K members in about 12 districts in southern Nangarhar," Salvin said. "Right now, we believe there are about 600 ISIS-K members in two or three districts in southern Nangarhar."Nevertheless, the IS has shown it can launch attacks in Kabul the capital and elsewhere in the country, General John Nicholson the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan told the Senate Armed Services Committee. The IS claimed a recent attack on March 8th on a military hospital in Kabul that killed at least 31 people. General Nicholson has asked that several thousand more U.S. troops be sent to Afghanistan.Michael Kugelman, a South Asia specialist at the Woodrow Willson Center in Washington DC cautioned:Although the extensive combat mission of the U.S. and allies in Afghanistan has long ended there are still about 8,400 U.S. troops left in Afghanistan who aid Afghan forces and the U.S. also provides extensive air support in carrying out cooperative counter-terrorism operations. Captain Salvin said that the U.S. approach in Afghanistan to fighting the IS was two-pronged: "The first is the unilateral U.S. counterterrorism mission called Operation Freedom, and that is where we will conduct the operations against terrorist groups like ISIS-K on our own. The other way that we are attacking ISIS-K is in partnered operations with the Afghan special forces. They have had a great success in fighting ISIS-K, especially over the last month or so."The Afghan government believes that the Trump administration will grant General Nicholson's request for several thousand more U.S. troops. The Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani said: "We stand confident that the new U.S. administration under President [Donald] Trump will remain strategically engaged and continue its support." Captain Salvin predicted that in 2017 the U.S. together with the Afghans would defeat the IS: "We believe that they are stronger going into 2017 than they were when they finished 2016. So while we do believe it will be a challenging year, we believe that the Afghan forces will be successful, and we will be here to be their partners."It took some time before the U.S. even admitted that the IS was operating in Afghanistan. Subsequently, the Afghan government announced at least twice in 2016 that they had achieved "total victory" over the IS. The group is often temporarily driven from an area only to reappear quite soon. The group often relocates when there is an offensive against them allowing most to escape.The talk of defeating the IS ignores the fact that the main rebel group in Afghanistan are the Taliban and they are capturing more and more areas. Most recently the Taliban captured the key district of Sangin in the southern province of Helmand. A U.S. spokesperson played down the development:
"Ultimately, we should applaud U.S. efforts to cut down the presence of IS fighters in Afghanistan. But the broader problem is the ideologies of hate that keep IS strong. Taking aim at the ideological drivers of IS will be very difficult. The Afghanistan-Pakistan region is a magnet for militancy, and there's no reason why the hundreds of IS fighters that have been lost won't be replaced. There are deeper issues that need to be addressed — such as why IS managed to develop a presence in Afghanistan in the first place — and these are issues that can't be addressed by the U.S. military."
A spokesman for the American military, Capt. William K. Salvin, played down the development, saying Afghan security forces were still in the district and had merely moved its seat of government. “They repositioned the district center,” he said. “This move to a new district center has been planned for some time.The Taliban overran government offices in the city of Sangin. The area was handed over to Afghan forces back in 2013 after a battle that saw more U.S. and British marines killed than in any other district in Afghanistan. The present takeover has taken place in spite of an extensive U.S. bombing campaign and the support of U.S. Special Operations soldiers. The Islamic State is a much lesser problem than the Taliban which is occupying more and more territory in many parts of Afghanistan especially the south.