AKIPRESS.COM - More than 150 Islamic State group fighters surrendered to Afghan security forces after the Taliban said they had driven their rival militants from the north of the country in weeks of heavy clashes, The Telegraph reports.
The Taliban said they had freed Jawzjan province from “the evil phenomenon” of the regional branch of Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (ISIL), and locals had been “freed from its tortures”.
The rival groups have fought since small groups of militants first pledged allegiance to ISIL in early 2015, but fighting has escalated as the newcomer has spread from its Nangarhar stronghold.
Thousands of civilians have fled heavy fighting between the groups as large numbers of fighters have clashed across the country in recent weeks.
A Taliban statement said more than 100 ISIL militants had been killed in the three-week operation involving Taliban fighters mobilised from five provinces. In the wake of the fighting 152 Islamic State group fighters surrendered from the areas of Darzab and Qush Tepa, Afghan officials said. Mawlawi Habiburrahman, commander of Islamic State forces in the north, and another commander called Mufti Nematullah were among those who gave themselves up.Taliban commanders said a “special commando unit” equipped with humvees and night vision goggles had been at the heart of the fighting.
ISIL has established a stubborn foothold in Afghanistan even as the movement's self-proclaimed caliphate has crumbled in Iraq and Syria. Its ranks have swelled with defections from other militant groups, particularly the Pakistan Taliban.
Fighting the extremist offshoot has become a focus for US counter terrorism forces operating in Afghanistan and l ast month, General John Nicholson, the top U.S. Commander in Afghanistan, welcomed the fact that the Taliban were fighting Isil, which he said had to be destroyed.
US forces have launched air strikes against Islamic State fighters in Jawzjan in recent months, but the Taliban has rejected any suggestion of cooperation and accused the United States of trying to obstruct them.
ISIL has gained a reputation for unmatched savagery in areas it controls, beheading prisoners and raping women. Both sides have regularly conducted indiscriminate suicide attacks on civilians as they wage war on the internationally-backed Kabul government.
US and Afghan special forces have repeatedly launched major operations in ISIL's Nangarhar stronghold to try to flush the group out, and the province has been pummelled by US air strikes. Yet ISIL continues to strike freely across the province. Government frustration after a string of suicide bombings in the provincial capital of Jalalabad on Wednesday saw security for the city temporarily placed in the hands of the army.