WASHINGTON - Local residents joined forces with Afghan Taliban militants to repel an Islamic State attack in a remote district in eastern Afghanistan, where Osama bin Laden once took refuge, according to local tribesmen.
Late Friday, after about three days of fierce fighting in the mountains, IS fighters reportedly retreated to scattered villages after suffering dozens of casualties.
The battles began Tuesday when IS fighters attacked Taliban positions in the Tora Bora mountains in the Pachiragam district of eastern Nangarhar province that borders Pakistan. Locals, who see IS militants as a threat to their region, came to the aid of the Taliban with militias to push out IS.
Taliban gains control
Tora Bora, known for its complex set of mountain caves, was the site of a U.S. military offensive in December 2001, where al-Qaida's leader, Osama bin Laden, was reportedly hiding before he managed to cross into neighboring Pakistan. The Taliban has gained control of much of Tora Bora in recent years as it gains ground in rural areas against Afghan troops, which have largely retreated.
Lacking an Afghan government military presence in the area, locals have taken up arms to fight IS to defend their lands, Nangarhar government spokesman Attaullah Khogyani told VOA.The fighting displaced about 500 families, he added.
Pachiragam, neighboring districts
IS militants have repeatedly stormed villages in the Pachiragam and neighboring districts, killing and abducting hundreds of people, setting homes and markets on fire, keeping local schools shuttered, and displacing thousands of people. A provincial government source told VOA the central government will supply weapons to the villagers.
Based in southern parts of eastern Nangarhar province, IS's self-styled Khorasan Province branch (ISIS-K) emerged in early 2015 in the mountainous areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Last year, it had a presence in at least 12 Nangarhar districts.
IS and the Taliban have engaged in frequent clashes in Nangarhar and some areas in northern Jouzjan province, where IS is attempting to establish a footprint.
Civilians caught in crossfire
Fierce clashes between the two rival groups in the Chaparhar district of Nangarhar last month left 21 Taliban fighters and seven IS militants dead, spokesman Khogyani said. At least three civilians who were caught in the crossfire were killed and five others wounded.
IS has expanded its presence and activities to neighboring Kunar province.
Provincial police chief Juma Gul Hemat told VOA's Afghan service that up to 2,000 IS fighters are active in several districts. He added that the terror group has established a training base in the Patash valley, where foreign fighters, including Arabs and Pakistanis, train recruits.
VOA's Zabihullah Ghazi contributed to this report from Nangarhar.