WASHINGTON - The U.S. military official in charge of the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan says U.S. forces have attacked what are believed to be the largest al-Qaida training camps found in the course of the 14-year Afghan war.
Army General John Campbell told The Washington Post in a report published Friday that some 160 al-Qaida operatives were reported killed in the attack, which involved dozens of American airstrikes and 200 Special Operations forces.
He said the operation that took place on or around October 11 hit training areas that covered an area of 80 square kilometers near Afghanistan's southern border with Pakistan. The facilities are believed to have existed for as long as a year.
The operation took place just days before U.S. President Barack Obama announced plans to keep 9,800 troops in Afghanistan through the greater part of 2016 and some 5,500 troops in the area into 2017.
Campbell said the training camps were in "a place where you would probably think you wouldn't have" al-Qaida operatives. The United States has long said the few traces of al-Qaida believed to be left in Afghanistan were located in several valleys in the eastern part of the country.
The Washington Post said the new information "has raised questions about the effectiveness of the U.S. military to find and strike the militants" in Afghanistan, 14 years after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States that led to the U.S. military's attacks on Afghan-based militants.
Uprising against IS militants
Meanwhile, hundreds of local citizens in Afghanistan's eastern Nangarhar province have launched an uprising against Islamic State militants.
“Around 600 local people joined us in the fight against IS,” district governor of Achin, Haji Ghalib, said in an interview with VOA’s Afghan service.
The Achin district, which borders Pakistan, has recently seen an increasing presence of IS militants.
“There were around 1,500 fighters initially but most of them died or were killed in battles with our forces,” Ghalib said.
In recent months, there has been an increase in the IS insurgency in Afghanistan, especially in Nangarhar province where IS fighters have launched multiple attacks on Afghan security checkpoints.
The uprising, which surged on Thursday, is reportedly a joint effort by Afghan security forces and local residents to rid the Achin district of the IS presence.
“It was very successful,” Ghalib told VOA. “It’s the local people that support the government and the government supports them back. With this IS will be defeated in all of Nangarhar province. Even if they go to the furthest mountains, they will be defeated.”
Afghanistan's Pajhwok news agency reported that 30 IS fighters were killed and a dozen others were wounded in ongoing operations in the district. Many fighters have reportedly retreated to neighboring Pakistan.
“They are forced to retreat and they have also taken their families back to Tirah Valley [on the Pakistani side of the Durand Line] that they had brought with them,” Ghalib said. ”There are only a few fighters in the mountains and they too will soon be forced to leave.”
According to Pajhwok, the public uprising members will be recruited into the Afghan Local Police (ALP) once the area is cleared of the IS fighters. There are an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 IS militants in the country, according to intelligence reports.
IS has reportedly recruited young soldiers and forced marriages on young women and girls in the areas it controls in Afghanistan.
IS last week released a series of gruesome photos on its website that militants say were taken in Afghanistan and show several bodies of men dressed in Afghan military garb who were allegedly killed in battles with IS.