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IS, Lashkar-e-Islam Clash in Eastern Afghanistan

Achin district, Afghanistan

Afghan security officials say that Pakistan-based militant group Lashakar-e-Islam (Army of Islam) has been engaged in a firefight with Islamic State militants in Achin district.

A spokesperson for Nangarhar Police Department, Hazrat Hussain Mashriqiwal said both groups sustained causalities during the firefight that has dragged on for almost a week. The groups are believed to be fighting for territorial control.

"Six IS militants were killed and another four were wounded. Also, three Lashkar-e-Islam militants were killed and three others were wounded during the firefight," said Mashriqiwal. "No civilians were harmed."

IS and Lashkar-e-Islam operate in Shirzad, Shinwar, Nazian and Achin districts of eastern Nangarhar province and have footprints in the Tora Bora area. Tora Bora was once a stronghold of slain Al-Qaida leader Osama Bin Laden.

Lashkar-e-Islam has been operating in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border area. The group was reportedly founded by a local cleric, Mufti Munir Shakir, in 2004 in the Bara tribal area of northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan.

According to multiple reports, Mangal Bagh, also known as Haji Mangal Bagh Afridi, took charge of the group in 2015 after Munir went into hiding during a tribal dispute over his activities.

Reports of Mangal Bagh's death have emerged a couple of times in Pakistani media. But Pakistani officials and political experts dispute the reports and charge that he is still alive.

Ahmad Sayedi, a regional expert told VOA, "Mangal Bagh is alive. His group, Lashkar-e-Islam is a Pakistan Inter Intelligence Service (ISI) proxy and is assigned to engage in terror related activities in eastern Afghanistan."

Some Pakistani political analysts however, deny that claim and say that Bagh has fought against Pakistani security forces on multiple fronts.

"Lashkar-e-Islam is a militant group that has martyred dozens of Pakistan Army men in different fronts. It is a false claim and propaganda to say that the group is an ISI proxy." Shaukatulla Khan, former governor for northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan told VOA.

Lashkar-e-Islam first engaged the IS militants last Sunday in eastern Afghanistan. Locals who witnessed the firefight claim the groups are targeting each other with heavy and small weapons in the Bandar valley of Achin district.

Initially based in southern parts of eastern Nangarhar province, the Islamic State Khorasan branch, also known as ISIS-K, emerged in early 2015 in the mountainous areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan to cover the two states and "other nearby territories."

As the Islamic State terror group is trying to expand from its traditional enclave of eastern Afghanistan to other parts of the country, Taliban insurgents and now Lashkar-e-Islam militants are blocking them, sparking periodic and deadly clashes among different groups.