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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 October 2018

US drone strike kills 21 ISIS fighters in Afghanistan, says military official 

Afghan military and US ramp up strikes following a string of deadly ISIS attacks

Smoke billows after armed militants attacked the area close to the Presidential place and other government offices, during Eid al-Adha celebrations in Kabul, Afghanistan. EPA
Smoke billows after armed militants attacked the area close to the Presidential place and other government offices, during Eid al-Adha celebrations in Kabul, Afghanistan. EPA

A suspected US drone strike killed 21 ISIS fighters in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar, officials said.

Major Haroon Yousafzai, a spokesman for the 201st "Selab" Corps said the strike took place on Sunday in the province's Khogyani district.

“The Afghan and US forces jointly targeted the ISIS hideouts in the Sikanar area of Wazir Tangi through unmanned aerial vehicles,” he said.

The Afghan branch of ISIS, known as ISIL-KP or Khorasan after the the historical region, has been battling both the Taliban and coalition forces since their emergence in 2015.

The US-led coalition has been engaged in regular airstrikes on ISIS positions across Nangarhar, the group's main hideout. “In Sunday’s airstrike a large number of weapons, ammunition and explosives were destroyed,” said Maj Yousafzai. The group's four top leaders have also been killed in recent US drone strikes.

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Speaking from an undisclosed location an ISIS commander told The National that a large number of civilians had been killed by US drone strikes, adding that the Afghan government was playing down the number of casualties.

"We will continue fighting these forces, including the Taliban, who are meeting these foreign forces for peace talks. We are true fighters and doing jihad,” he said.

Attacks on ISIS leadership were ramped up after a deadly blast in Jalalabad in September killed 68 people.

“I feel profound indignation at this latest wave of attacks deliberately targeting civilians,” said Tadamichi Yamamoto, the senior United Nations official in Afghanistan. “The planners [of the attacks] must face justice."

But not everyone is convinced of the military's success.

“ISIS is still a strong power in Eastern Afghanistan primarily in Nangarhar, there have been multiple operations...but they are still operating and initiating attacks even in the Kabul. I think Afghan government claims of killing ISIS fighters are false,” Rahim ullah Yousafzai, a veteran Afghanistan analyst told The National.

“ISIS fighters are resilient, even the Taliban who won against ISIS in the north are reluctant to carry out operations against them in Nangarhar," said Mr Yousafzai.

US military commander General John Nicholson recently reiterated the need to eradicate the extremist group from the country.

"We are going fully at ISIS. And we also note that the Taliban is fighting ISIS and we encourage that because ISIS needs to be destroyed," he told the press.

In August the collapse of ISIS in the north led to the surrender of more than 150 militants, including 30 women and children in the northern Jowzjan province after weeks of fighting. The Taliban also took credit for the dismantling of the group in that area, claiming to have killed more than 150 ISIS fighters and arrested 130.

"There is no place for them [ISIS] in the future of Afghanistan," said General Nicholson.