Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban said Saturday their security forces had killed at least eight key militants of the self-proclaimed Islamic State Khorasan (ISIS-K) and captured three others.
Taliban forces carried out an afternoon raid against an ISIS-K base in Taloqan, the capital of the northeastern province, Takhar, and eliminated what local officials told Afghan state-run media was a "funding, equipping and training center" of the terrorist group.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid late Saturday confirmed the military action, saying special forces of the General Directorate of Intelligence, the new name of the Afghan spy agency, assaulted the militant base.
Mujahid added that the ensuing heavy clashes killed eight men, including an important commander of the group, identified as Younis Uzbekistani. He did not share further details.
City residents said the security operation had temporarily blocked the main highway linking Taloqan to the neighboring province, Badakhshan. Both Afghan provinces are on the country’s border with Tajikistan.
Growing ISIS-K activities in Afghan border areas have worried Tajikistan and other Central Asian neighbors.
Last month, ISIS-K reportedly claimed responsibility for firing rockets into Tajikistan from the Khwaja Ghar district in Takhar, but no casualties were reported.
For their part, Tajik authorities said that bullets, not rockets, landed in Tajikistan that were fired accidentally during what they claimed was a firefight between Taliban forces and ISIS-K militants on the Afghan side of the border.
ISIS-K has increased attacks in Afghanistan since the Taliban seized power from the Western-backed government last August, days before the final U.S.-led foreign troops withdrew from the country.
The militant violence has killed and injured hundreds of people, mostly members of the Afghan minority Shiite Muslim community.
The United Nations has warned that ISIS-K’s objective “remains to challenge the Taliban by waging a war that fits into the border Daesh concept of ‘global jihad.’”
The world body, using the Arabic acronym for the terrorist outfit, said in its assessment released last month that ISIS-K’s short-term focus "expected to remain on attacks on soft targets such as Shia Hazara mosques and minority groups."
The report estimated ISIS-K has between 1,500 and 4,000 fighters "concentrated in remote areas" of Afghanistan’s Kunar, Nangarhar and possibly Nuristan provinces. It added that ISIS-K’s smaller, covert cells are also located in northern and northeastern provinces, including Badakhshan, Takhar, Jowzjan, Kunduz and Faryab.
The Taliban rejected the U.N. report as unfounded, saying “the world and the region have been prevented from facing any harm from Afghanistan” since the Islamist group took control of the country last year.
The Taliban foreign ministry in a statement said the government “again reaffirms its commitments and reassures all that none shall be allowed to use the territory of Afghanistan against others.”
Recent American military assessments also have warned that both al-Qaida and ISIS-K are growing in strength since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and could pose a significant threat beyond the country’s borders.