At least half of Islamic State’s fighters in Afghanistan have been killed in the last six months, bringing the terrorist group’s total number to around 1,000 to 1,500, according to the commander of U.S. forces in the country.
Army Gen. John Nicholson said the U.S. military estimated the ISIS presence in Afghanistan at around 3,000 in January. The general noted both U.S. and Afghan special operations forces have been actively engaged in a campaign to eliminate the ISIS affiliate, which is centered mostly around Nangarhar and Kunar provinces, both of which border Pakistan. The fighting recently led to the injury of five U.S. servicemen who were carrying out a joint operation with Afghan forces July 24 and 25.
“Since January, [ISIS] area has shrunk to about three or four districts … in southern Nangarhar,” said Nicholson during a press briefing Thursday, adding the affiliate group is engaging in attacks and atrocities similar to those in Iraq and Syria.
The affiliate group, known as Wilayat Khorasan (Khorasan Province, IS-K), is not nearly as predominant as the Taliban, but it has been able to maintain a significant presence in Afghanistan since January, 2015. Its ranks are made up of mostly former members of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the Pakistani version of the Taliban. Many of the fighters are natives of the Orakzai agency, one of Pakistan’s lawless Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) located along the Afghan border in the west. The Taliban and other radical Islamic groups often cross over the Afghan-Pakistani border into the FATA region, despite the fact that Pakistan is technically a U.S. ally.
IS-K’s small numbers have not hampered the group’s ability to engage in deadly attacks. The group took credit for an suicide bombing on the Afghan capital of Kabul which killed 81 and injured another 231 Saturday. The event marked the deadliest attack seen in Afghanistan since U.S. forces invaded in 2001. Nicholson insisted that the attack does not mean the group is gaining momentum, instead he claimed it was a sign of desperation as the group loses manpower and territory.