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IS Goes on Attack Spree After Afghan Forces Clear One District


FILE - Afghan security forces take positions following an operation against Islamic State militants in Pachiragam district of Nangarhar province, Dec. 3, 2016.

Within hours after the Afghan government said it successfully completed a three-month-long cleanup operation against the Islamic State (IS) militant group in a remote eastern district of the country, IS conducted a series of attacks and kidnappings in other areas.

On Sunday, 12 teachers and two staff members from a religious school in the Haskamena district of Nangarhar, where IS has an active presence, were kidnapped from their school and taken to nearby mountains area.

"The teachers were giving a test at the madrassa [religious school] when IS kidnapped them," provincial government spokesman Attaullah Khogyani said.

Authorities say efforts are going on to secure their release.

The abductions came after IS fighters stormed the Kot district on Saturday, targeting local militia forces in the area. Local residents told VOA IS fighters were advancing toward the national police checkpoints in the area.

An untold number of villagers have been killed in the are since the fall, and hundreds of families have been displaced from their homes by the fighting, they added.

The weekend violence came after the Afghan government said Friday that one district is now free of IS.

"The IS group has been driven out of Pachiragam and the area is now free of IS fighters," Shirin Aqa Faqir, a spokesperson for the Afghan army in Nangarhar, told VOA's Afghan service.

Local force

In Pachiragam, provincial authorities said local villagers had been enlisted in a militia force to ensure IS will not return to the area. Hundreds of area residents have signed up to join the militia, they said.

"We have deployed 500 local uprising members in 12 security checkposts and two large military bases to help protect the area," Faqir said. "We have also created five national police checkposts on the Pachiragam-Chaparhar highway."

The majority of the recruits will be phased into local police and Afghan security forces, Nangarhar's police spokesperson, Hazrat Hussain Mashriqiwal, told VOA. The recruits have been put on the government payroll.

A military center has been established in the district, which would supply logistics and arms to the militia as needed, according to Faqir.

FILE - An Afghan soldier keeps watch during clashes with Islamic State militants in Kot district of Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, June 26 2016.
FILE - An Afghan soldier keeps watch during clashes with Islamic State militants in Kot district of Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, June 26 2016.

Counteroffensive

Afghan security forces began their counteroffensive against IS in October, shortly after the militant group attacked checkpoints manned by government-supported local militias in the Pachiragam district of eastern Nangarhar province, which borders Pakistan.

IS reportedly is holding at least 60 local militiamen who were taken hostage in October. The hostages have been taken from the district to neighboring areas where IS has a presence.

A delegation of tribal elders that attempted to secure the hostages' release was sent back with orders from IS, including the demand for locals to "renew their marriages and Islamic faith." According to IS, they had become infidels because they lived under and supported government forces.

The restive Kot district, which has about 160,000 residents, has been hit hard by IS militantcy. IS militants last summer launched a massive assault on various parts of Kot. Dozens of villagers were killed and hundreds displaced.

"They have ended the offensive against IS, but Taliban militants still exist in the area," Hejratullah Rahmani, the Pachiragam district governor, told VOA.

Zabihullah Ghazi contributed to this report from Nangarhar.

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