[HOT] – In Tangled Afghan War, a Thin Line of Defense Against ISIS

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[The1945[1945-19008] KHOGYANI, Afghanistan – When the US military dropped the largest bomb of their arsenal on an Islamic State cave complex in April, the generals justified it as part of a campaign to destroy the local subsidiary of the group.

His strength had been reduced to 700 combatants against 3,000, they said, and his area of ​​operation was reduced to three districts from 11.

But when the 39 As the year draws to a close, the Islamic State is far from being defeated in the east of Afghanistan, even as the group is fleeing to its central territory in Iraq and in the Middle East. Syria. He has carried out brutal attacks that have displaced thousands of families and forced even some Taliban fighters, who had been in control of the mountainous terrain for a long time, to seek the protection of the government.

The changing dynamics has, in turn, threatened America.

And two years after the joint United States-Afghanistan operation, a clear understanding of the affiliate of the Islamic State, the last enemy of the long Afghan war, still eludes to some of the accused. with the fight.

Gen. John W. Nicholson Jr., the highest US and NATO commander in Afghanistan, recently declared that 1,400 operations and airstrikes had "removed from the battlefield" more than 1,600 fighters of the Islamic State. since March – more than double the beginning of the year.

Residents displaced in Tangi Wazir, where militants of the Islamic State set houses on fire Credit ] Mauricio Lima for The New York Times

Some Afghan and Western officials wonder if these figures are inflated, but Americans say that they are an indication that the group continues to rebuild its ranks with new fighters.

Part of the reason why the two-year joint operation by the United States and Afghanistan against the Islamic State has made little progress is simply that the two forces operate in a field where they have little control for years. Air strikes and commando operations bring pressure surges, but activists have dump valves around them. From one side lies the porous border with Pakistan, from which many fighters come. Elsewhere, it is largely the country of the Taliban

"It's like a balloon," said General Nicholson. "We are shaking them in this area, and they will try to move elsewhere."

A visit this month to Khogyani, an eastern district where ISIS fighters have changed, has shown the increasing complexity of the Afghan conflict highlighted how much it would be difficult to defeat the Islamic State, known as the Islamic State.

The authority of the Afghan government in Khogyani, in a remote area of ​​Nangarhar Province, has long been confined to neighborhood neighborhood and immediate vicinity. The Taliban ruled the rest. After years of war without a winner, the region settled in a kind of strange calm while the Taliban and the government found ways to coexist, as happened to varying degrees around the opium .

The Country

Although the Taliban are known for their opposition to the education of girls, in Khogyani, activists here have allowed schooling, showing a willingness to do so. to abandon a request that had already made them lose heart and mind. In exchange for nominal control, the government paid salaries for teachers and health workers that the Taliban could not afford.

Abdul Jabar, who had been displaced from his home near the Pakistani border and the Taliban, said that there was a two-story high school for girls near his new home, with a enrollment of up to 1600. Mir Haidar, who distributes vaccinations, said the three clinics employed women there, despite the Taliban's past opposition to women at the workplace

Thus, the Taliban regime in Khogyani established that Islamic State fighters were beginning to trust the Taliban

Then the Taliban lines began to buckle

] "The Taliban were swelling their chest -" We are strong, do not go, we will take care of it, "said Abdul Qadeem, a 13-year-old father. said, the Islamic State arrived at night and we left with nothing to that shawl on my shoulder.

The local state subsidiary in Afghanistan was established in 2014, rapidly gaining ground in Nangarhar province. He quickly drew the attention of the US military, which had reduced its presence in Afghanistan to a small anti-terrorist mission against Al Qaeda and to a larger NATO mission to train Afghan forces. to stand up to the Taliban.

US and Afghan officials now have little reason to believe that the Afghan group, despite its promise of allegiance to the Islamic State, has regular contacts or receives instructions from the government. 39 Islamic State operating in Iraq and Syria. Instead, they say, the Islamic State in Afghanistan is largely composed of Pakistani militants pushed across the border by military operations in that country.

Malik Makee, standing, runs a militia of several dozen men in support of the government, helping to maintain a buffer zone around the center of the district. Credit Mauricio Lima for the New York Times

Activists first used the mountains Afghans as a mere refuge, before embracing the Islamic State and turn their weapons against Afghanistan. Opinions are divided on how and why.

Some officials believe that it was only a matter of time before extremists in search of relevance were attracted to the Islamic State. Others say that the Afghan and US military miscalculated and encouraged a new enemy by attacking Pakistani militants seeking refuge in Afghanistan in the hope that Pakistanis would reciprocate with Afghan Taliban leaders in Afghanistan. their soil.

Cynical plans of the Pakistani intelligence agency, which Afghans have long accused of trying to destabilize their government.

No matter who they are, the activists brought more violence and suffering to Afghan civilians. In Khogyani, US airstrikes to destroy the Islamic State may have temporarily exhausted forces, but they have also reversed relative peace.

Afghan officials claim to believe that fighting between the Islamic State and the Taliban

"The reason they are fighting each other, is for the resources and for the territory, "said Mohammed Gulab Mangal, the governor of Nangarhar province, who said the two groups" drink the same spring ". a subtle reference to their perceived Pakistani origins.

Thousands of families have been displaced by the brutal attacks of the Islamic State. Even some Taliban fighters have been forced to seek government protection. Credit Mauricio Lima for the New York Times

The people of Khogyani say that the militants of the Islamic State are better armed and are fighting harder than the Taliban.

"If you tie a Taliban fighter to the trunk of this tree, and you tell him that Isis is coming, he runs," said Malik Makee, a former tribe who heads a militia of several dozen men in support of the government, helping to maintain a buffer around the center of the district.

Makee is an example of how fluid alliances can be here. He lived under Taliban rule for years, without much trouble, until he killed one of his sons, retaliated by killing six Taliban, then packing to join him. to the government

Makee – who admits the opium culture, as many do in the district – is one of three men who lead the war in Khogyani on behalf of the government. All three are veterans of many previous conflicts.

The busiest of all ux is a powerful intelligence agent in his fifties trying to strip Taliban commanders and foot soldiers fleeing the Islamic State. Its agents make a simple argument to potential defectors: You have no escape from the Islamic State, so come to us for protection. About three dozen have

During a recent afternoon, the agent entered into an agreement with two Taliban for tea and raisins in a dark room of the house. district speaker. The men, who both fought the government for six years, were disarmed from a rocket propelled grenade, a Kalashnikov and a pistol

Taliban fighters presenting their identity cards during a peace agreement. Credit Mauricio Lima for the New York Times.

When the operative asked if the two Taliban had government ID, they removed them, carefully wrapped in plastic sheeting. When asked about how they had obtained the documents, one of the men, who gave his name to Zabihullah Ghorzang, replied:

"My uncle was district governor here."

Get hold of Mr. Ghorzang's knee, the agent said the men's decision to join the government was patriotic. The government had forgiven their misdeeds. The case ended, Mr. Ghorzang was handed his gun.

But Mr. Makee, who was at the meeting, could not keep quiet. "The government can forgive you anything it wants," he told the two Taliban. "But if I discover that you did something wrong against my men, I swear I will drive you away wherever you hide."

Lt. Colonel Noor Agha, the third of three men who fights ISIL here, is a district police chief who cuts off a sweet-spoken father figure. He was responsible for the last line of defense against ISIS: Up to here in the Taliban countries, there were no Afghan commandos or US special forces to help.

Colonel Agha has only 170 police officers under his command. command, 30 of them are not present for duty, and about as many militia, as those that Mr. Makee commands.

As residents began to flee last month fighting between the Islamic State and the Taliban It seems that the government could lose even its nominal control if Islamic State fighters reached a strategic hill.

Colonel Agha carved a road from the center of the district up to the top of the hill, a path made for the first time in the war. He tinkered with about 50 men, including 20 from the army, and they crossed the poppy fields to establish outposts on the hill.

Many men slept in the open air. They lacked heavy weapons. While they lowered their eyes, it was the Taliban right, the Taliban left, the Taliban at the foot of the hill. In the distance was the Islamic State, its fighters heavily armed with machine guns and rocket launchers, says Colonel Agha. He knows it because his troops were fired and mocked on the radio like infidels and American militias.

Leaving his pride for a moment, the colonel admitted that he could not retaliate.

"With what can we repel them?"

Finally, Colonel Agha's fighters were spared from having to find out from other units of the Afghan army who came to help the IS to leave Khogyani. Local commanders in recent days say that they have killed at least 50, and others have resumed moving their base of operations –

Follow Mujib Mashal on Twitter: @MujMash.

Fahim Abed and Zabihullah Ghazi Contributed to the Report

A version of this article was printed on under New Page 1 York Edition with the title: Fighting ISIS in the Afghan Bedevils Region of the United States . Order Reprints | Paper of today |

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