Afghan forces and U.S.-led coalition airstrikes have killed some 43 fighters with the Islamic State group in eastern Afghanistan, Afghan officials said Tuesday, Stars and Stripes reported. The extremist group, also known as ISIS, has sought to carve out a stronghold in the conflict-ravaged country but has been pushed back by both the Afghan government and Taliban fighters.
“A number of Daesh fighters gathered in the Pekha Khwar area intending to attack Afghan security posts, but they were targeted by a drone,” said Attaullah Khogyani, a government spokesman in eastern Afghanistan, using an Arabic acronym for the terrorist organization, the newspaper reported. Khogyani reportedly said a large cache of weapons and ammunition was destroyed. An additional 18 militants were said to have been killed elsewhere during a separate ground operation Monday.
ISIS is thought to command up to 3,000 fighters in Afghanistan. Its presence is largely concentrated in the eastern Nangarhar province. Although some are defectors from the Taliban, that group has routinely staged attacks against ISIS. Fresh fighting erupted this year between the two groups after hundreds of Taliban fighters launched assaults against ISIS bases, taking two districts in eastern Afghanistan.
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A spokesman for NATO’s Resolute Support Mission, Col. Michael Lawhorn, confirmed that a U.S. strike was carried out in eastern Afghanistan Monday. He did not offer additional information. Last month, President Barack Obama gave the green light to target ISIS sites in Afghanistan, responding to an attack on a Pakistani consulate.
ISIS controls tens of thousands of fighters worldwide. Although most are based in Iraq and Syria, the extremists have also made inroads in Libya, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Last week, the U.S. carried out airstrikes targeting ISIS in Libya, where it is now a major fighting force on the ground.
Afghanistan has experienced decades of war, and the government, backed by U.S. forces, has struggled to stabilize the country following a U.S. invasion in 2001. Late last year, Obama announced U.S. soldiers would remain in Afghanistan beyond the planned withdrawal date.