ISLAMABAD - Authorities in Afghanistan on Monday claimed to have made major successes against the Taliban and Islamic State, saying national security forces have killed hundreds of fighters, including key leaders linked to both groups.
Major General Mohammad Habib Hesari, Director General of Military Operations, told a news conference in Kabul that fighting is still raging in the restive southern Helmand province, but that Afghan forces have the upper hand.
He said Afghan forces conducted major counterinsurgency operations in several provinces, killing more than 700 Taliban insurgents over the past week, while scores have been wounded and approximately 50 arrested.
Most of the casualties inflicted on the insurgent group were in southern Helmand, eastern Nangarhar and northern Kunduz provinces, the general added.
"We have also suffered casualties, but they are not as high as of the enemy," he said when asked to give a casualty toll for Afghan security forces.
The general went on to acknowledge that the situation in Helmand was cause for concern; however, he said Afghan troops have effectively blocked insurgents from capturing any district or town, asserting the battle in the province has not been as widespread and intense as has been reported in the media.
"The situation is under control and the initiative there is with us," Hesari said.
Chief reportedly killed
Meanwhile, regional military commander General Mohammad Zamman Waziri on Monday visited Achine, a remote mountainous district in Nangarhar.
He told a group of reporters accompanying him to the region that Afghan forces have killed Afghanistan's Islamic State chief, Hafiz Saeed Khan.
Waziri would not say where, how or exactly when Khan was eliminated. U.S. defense officials say they have been unable to confirm the death.
IS established its bases in Achin and surrounding districts after launching its Afghan operation in January 2015.
Afghan forces backed by U.S. drone strikes, however, are said to have flushed out IS militants from these districts and cornered them to remote parts of Achin.
IS appointed Khan as the head of its local branch, named Islamic State of Khorasan Province. Afghan officials have previously also publicly claimed killing the IS commander in security operations, but those assertions were later denied.
New Taliban unit
Speaking in Kabul, Hesari acknowledged that Afghan troops in Helmand are facing a newly raised commando-like Taliban unit of several hundred fighters, which is better organized and equipped. The insurgent group is reportedly called the Sara Khitta, or Red Force, and claims it has played a key role in battlefield advances in Helmand, which the Taliban regards as its heartland, inflicting heavy casualties on Afghan forces.
The U.S. commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson, said last month that Afghan forces have suffered about 20 percent higher casualties this year. The casualty toll in 2015 stood at around 20,000, according to U.S. military estimates.
Reports recently quoted Helmand's provincial council director, Kareem Atal, as claiming that since late July, around 600 Afghan police officers and soldiers have been killed or wounded in the province, and the Taliban has consistently expanded its influence, citing the new insurgent commando unit for Taliban advances.
Elsewhere in Afghanistan, security forces are conducting search operations in Kabul to try to recover an American and an Australian kidnapped Sunday evening.
An Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman told VOA Monday that the two professors of an international university in the capital city were on their way to a guesthouse in Kabul when unknown armed men stopped their vehicle and took them away.
There were no claims of responsibility.