Local leaders in Pakistan and Afghanistan say they are seeing a resurgence and regrouping of Islamic State fighters in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region.
Afghan forces, aided by U.S. bombers, reportedly intensified attacks on remote mountainous IS positions Tuesday. More than two dozen IS fighters were killed in air raids in the Achin and Kot districts, according to a spokesperson for the provincial governor and the Afghan defense ministry.
Afghan and U.S. coalition forces recently cleared many areas of IS militants in a number of districts in eastern Nangarhar province. But IS has recaptured several remote villages in Achin and Kot, which border Pakistan, tribal leaders told VOA.
"The government has not built any check posts in remote areas that lie far from the district center, and people in those areas live under IS control," Malek Kamin, a tribal elder in Achin, told VOA.
Malek Kateb, a Kot district tribal elder, said the areas that once were cleared of IS militants have come back under IS's control after Afghan troops pulled back from the remote region. He added that around 250 IS fighters are present in the area. According to the tribal elders, IS militants are oppressing the local residents and limiting their movements.
Provincial officials say they are bulking up Afghan Local police forces to work under the ministry of interior to provide more enforcement and protect remote areas where IS is regenerating. Afghan Local Police, with around 30,000 members across the country, mostly protect remote villages.
Efforts in Pakistan
The regrouping of IS in the border region is accompanied by a threatening IS presence in neighboring Pakistan where, despite the government's previous denials, military officials say IS is attempting to establish a foothold.
IS claimed responsibility over the weekend for the assassination of three Pakistan military personnel in the northwestern city of Peshawar. The attack occurred days after the Pakistani military announced it had "forestalled" IS's attempts to infiltrate Pakistan.
IS "tried to make an ingress and they failed, and they have been apprehended so far," Lieutenant General Asim Bajwa, a spokesman for the Pakistani army, told reporters.
He added that security forces have arrested more than 300 IS-linked militants, including Syrians, in recent weeks. IS was plotting attacks on government, diplomatic and other civilian facilities, including media houses, according to Bajwa.
The threat of IS in Pakistan follows reports and remarks by state officials earlier this year that the group had been attempting to expand in the country. The director general of Pakistan's Intelligence Bureau, Aftab Sultan, earlier this year warned lawmakers that IS was an emerging problem in the country and that hundreds of fighters linked to local banned religious groups had left for Syria to join IS ranks there.
According to media reports, many of the IS members in Afghanistan belong to the Orakzai tribe in Pakistan, whose militants maintain a presence on both sides of the Durand Line between the two countries.
Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard this week announced the arrest of two Pakistani nationals with IS, who the Guard said were planning to conduct terror activities.
Near the Pakistan border in Afghanistan, IS militants have been active in parts of Nangarhar province since last year and have launched multiple attacks against government forces and local villages. Afghan and U.S. forces have conducted cleanup operations against IS in Nangarhar and surrounding areas.
Nangarhar's governor, Salim Khan Kunduzi, vowed to stand by local residents against IS militants.
"We promise them [local residents] that, God willing, we would not abandon them. We would protect the areas through local uprising forces and Afghan local police," the governor said to Afghan media.