US Special Forces Kill 22 ISIS-K Fighters
Op Freedom’s Sentinel Close to Defeating Islamic State in Afghanistan
U.S. special forces and Afghan counterparts killed 22 Islamic State fighters in a counter-terrorism operation in northern Afghanistan on April 11, according to a US statement issued Sunday.
The targeted militants were attempting to defend Darzab district, the group’s “strategic center” in Jowzjan province.
On April 5, a U.S. airstrike in Darzab killed the Islamic State commander for northern Afghanistan Qari Hekmatullah (or Hekmat) and his bodyguard, dealing a major blow to the group.
The Middle East-based terrorist group runs its regional extremist operations under the name of ISIS-Khorasan or ISIS-K (in US sources this is often simply IS-K).
Tactical Defeat of ISIS-K
The U.S. military said persistent joint military pressure in Jowzjan has “reduced IS-K to an isolated group of fighters devoid of leadership.” Since the beginning of the year, 90 ISIS-K fighters have been killed in Afghanistan, a majority were eliminated in Darzab, the U.S. military added.
“The recent Afghan and U.S. special operations raid will lead to the tactical defeat of IS-K in northern Afghanistan,” stated Gen. John Nicholson, who commands U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
Afghan Special Security Forces (ASSF) captured ISIS-K’s head facilitator of foreign fighters, Khitab Aka, in Jowzjan on Jan. 28. On Mar. 16, a U.S. airstrike killed ISIS-K platoon commanders, Omair and Abu Samaya, as they met in Sar-e Pul province. Later that evening, an ASSF night raid on ISIS-K headquarters in Jowzjan resulted in the death of another 13 terrorists. On Mar. 22, ASSF and U.S. SOF killed four ISIS-K fighters in Darzab. Four days later, ASSF and U.S. SOF killed an ISIS-K platoon commander and another terrorist fighter during a joint night raid in Mughul, Mar. 26-27.
Mawlavi Habibul Rahman Now Leading ISIS-K
The U.S. military said ISIS-K in Jowzjan “now selects its leaders from a dwindling, revolving door of insurgents with a history of divided loyalties.”
ISIS-K has appointed Mawlavi Habibul Rahman, an Uzbek militant leader, as commander, following Hekmatullah’s death. Sunday’s statement said the new leader has had intermittent ties to both Taliban and militants linked to the outlawed Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.
Battle of the ISIS-K Narrative with Russia
Jowzjan is next to Afghanistan’s border with Central Asian states. IS-K’s increasing footprints in the area have raised alarms in Russia. Moscow insists the terrorist group is establishing its bases in northern Afghan areas to threaten security of Russian regional allies.
U.S. military commanders, however, dismiss Russian assertions, saying Moscow exaggerates any IS presence in Afghanistan to justify its overt ties to the Taliban insurgency in an attempt to undermine Afghanistan’s gains against terrorism with the support of international partners.
Afghan leaders said there are currently less than 2,000 IS-K fighters in the country, mainly operating in eastern province near the border with Pakistan. Russian claims that the number runs into several thousands and that militants fleeing Syria and Iraq are also joining them.