WASHINGTON/NANGARHAR, AFGHANISTAN —
A contingent of local militiamen, backed by Afghan Taliban militants, are battling Islamic State fighters in a remote district in eastern Afghanistan, according to interviews with regional authorities and local tribesmen.
More than 80 people have been killed or wounded in the fighting, the authorities and local tribesmen said.
The fighting began Thursday when IS fighters attacked checkpoints manned by militias in the Pachiragam district of eastern Nangarhar province, which borders Pakistan. Taliban fighters, who consider IS militants as enemy-occupiers, came to the aid of the locals to repel the IS attacks.
“Taliban are supporting the local residents and local forces against the IS aggression in Pachiragam,” Taliban expert Wahid Muzhda said from Kabul, where he is monitoring news of the conflict. “They are not assisting the government forces but standing for the locals.”
The IS fighters have also come under U.S. drone attacks after regional authorities called Kabul to send help, regional authorities say. The Afghan government routinely turns to the U.S. military for airstrikes on militants.
"IS fighters’ morale has been weakened a bit as three unmanned drone strikes killed around 54 of their fighters,” Mirbaz Khan, the district governor, told VOA’s Afghan service.
Khan added that government forces could arrive in the area as soon as Saturday.
“The situation is not so good,” Khan said of the Taliban and government forces battling IS.
Government forces are involved in fierce fighting with the Taliban in a least 14 of the country's 34 provinces, according to interviews with local authorities and government officials.
Afghan defense authorities said on Friday that at least 66 Taliban fighters and five soldiers had been killed in the past 24 hours.
The Afghan government has not commented on Taliban’s support to the local militiamen in Nangarhar.
IS has been active in several districts in Nangarhar for months and has launched multiple attacks on villages. But attacks by Taliban fighters, local tribes and Afghan forces assisted by U.S. drone strikes have helped drive out IS militants from other areas in the province.
The fighting has displaced tens of families, one resident said, adding that many others are preparing to flee the area, especially after IS fighters set fire to some homes.
“Seventeen houses of civilian people have been burned by IS fighters, four civilians have been martyred and another 27 have been injured in the clashes,” provincial government spokesperson Attaullah Khogyani told VOA’s Afghan service.
In addition to the violence in Nangarhar, Afghanistan is reeling from other battles nationwide.
Two prominent Taliban commanders and 27 Taliban fighters were killed in northern Jawzjan and southern Helmand provinces, Jawzjan provincial spokesman Mohammad Reza Ghafoori said. The Taliban said it captured two security checkpoints and three soldiers during a gun battle.
In restive Helmand, where the Taliban and Afghan forces have been fighting for months, a Taliban commander and 22 troops were killed Thursday by Afghan security forces, Helmand security adviser Toryalai Himmat said.
The Taliban said the government reports are false.