The Afghan government has formed a special force to counter the Islamic State (IS) in eastern parts of the country against the backdrop of growing concerns about the expansion of the group’s activities.
The 750-strong battalion, which will mostly comprise former Afghan soldiers, will carry out operations against both the IS and Taliban in eastern provinces.
“The IS issue is the most important (issue), which should be hard hit,” acting defence minister Masoom Stanekzai told VOA’s Afghan service on Wednesday. “People are fed up with this group.”
The new unit will be based in the 201st Silab Army Corps in eastern Laghman province. Ongoing air strikes against the IS in Nangarhar province will continue but security forces are pursuing a new strategy, Stanekzai said.
“The use of too much force is not that helpful; people should cooperate to help us reach our goal,” he said. “We have changed our war strategy and want to work with local people.”
Stanekzai’s remarks came after hundreds of Afghans took to the streets of the eastern city of Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar, last week and demanded that Kabul step up military operations against the IS and Taliban in the eastern province.
Nangarhar governor Salim Kunduzi said local people were happy with the air strikes against IS militants.
The IS is active in several districts of Nangarhar, where it has carried out multiple attacks on government facilities. IS militants have also been engaged in fierce fighting with the rival Taliban in the province.
Dozens of insurgents have reportedly died in the fighting between the two groups.
Loyalists of the IS too have increased their activities and anti-government propaganda, and are terrorising residents of eastern parts of the country, Khaama Press reported.
The commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, Gen John Campbell, said last year that loyalists of the IS are attempting to establish a regional base in Jalalabad.
Campbell further said foreign militants from Syria and Iraq have joined loyalists of the IS in Nangarhar province and are trying to consolidate links with the leadership of the group based in Syria and Iraq.