Authorities in eastern Afghanistan said Sunday hundreds of Islamic State militants staged a coordinated predawn attack against key security outposts in a remote border region.
The hostilities come after months of reports that the extremist outfit is gaining influence in Afghanistan. If confirmed, it would be the first major offensive the Islamic State group has undertaken against Afghan national forces.
The fighting is raging in the mountainous Achin district of Nangarhar province, which borders Pakistan.
District governor Haji Ghalib Mujahid told VOA 35 Islamic State fighters and two Afghan security personnel are dead. He asserted that most of the heavily armed militants were Pakistani nationals.
Mujahid said, “Heavy casualties inflicted on Daesh (the Arabic acronym for Islamic State militants) fighters forced them to retreat.”
He said Afghan forces have also regained control of security posts that Islamic State militants had overrun in the early morning attack. He added that fighting in some areas was still continuing.
It has not been possible to independently verify details.
Intensified Taliban summer fighting has already put pressure on Afghanistan’s national security forces, though they have prevented insurgents from making any significant territorial gains.
The Islamic State group has undertaken extremist activities mostly in parts of Nangarhar province where its fighters have also clashed with the Taliban in recent months, leaving dozens of fighters dead on both sides.
A report by the United Nations’ al-Qaida monitoring team quoted Afghan government sources as saying that the Islamic State group had some form of “branding or sympathy” in about two-thirds of the country’s 34 provinces.
The report said Afghan security forces estimated about 10 percent of Taliban militants were also Islamic State “sympathizers.”
There are worries among local and Afghan observers that rifts among various Taliban factions stemming from a leadership succession dispute could lead to more defections to the Islamic State group, strengthening its ranks in Afghanistan.
The United States said it is concerned about Islamic State efforts to try to establish a stronghold in Afghanistan.
“It is unpredictable as yet how it might evolve. It is something that we are taking seriously,” a senior State Department official said in a background briefing Saturday.