ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN - Counterterrorism forces have captured 16 operatives of the Islamic State (IS) terror group, including online recruiters, authorities in Afghanistan said Thursday.
The operation comes as Taliban insurgents have staged a major assault on a troubled northwestern district, killing at least a dozen Afghan security forces.
The Afghan spy agency, National Directorate of Security (NDS), said a group of six men picked up in capital city Kabul confessed to using hundreds of fake accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Telegram to recruit fighters and promote IS ideology in the country.
The rest of the 10 detainees, described as "Daesh facilitators" — using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State — were captured during anti-terror operations in eastern Nangarhar province, according to NDS. The terrorist group calls its Afghan affiliate IS Khorasan Province (ISKP).
IS emerged in Afghanistan in early 2015 from bases in southern districts of Nangarhar, which borders Pakistan. The terrorist outfit, however, has since faced regular ground and air offensives against its bases from U.S.-backed Afghan security forces, losing thousands of fighters. "The Taliban insurgents also have attacked IS militants to prevent them from establishing a foothold in the country."
The United Nations reported Thursday that ongoing fierce clashes between Taliban and IS fighters in parts of Nangarhar and neighboring Kunar province have displaced more than 3,000 Afghan families. It said the displaced people have mostly relocated to nearby safe villages in Taliban-controlled areas.
Taliban in Badghis
Meanwhile, intense battles have been raging between government security forces and Taliban insurgents in the Bala Murghab district of western Badghis province, causing heavy casualties on both sides. The Taliban stormed military and police bases overnight near the district center and killed at least 12 Afghan force members as they took several others hostage.
The Afghan Defense Ministry said in a statement its ground forces were engaged in a counteroffensive, and its A-29 attack aircraft also were dropping bombs on Taliban positions in Bala Murghab, inflicting heavy casualties on the insurgents.
A Taliban spokesman claimed its fighters remained in control of several outposts.
This is the second Taliban attack against Bala Murghab in less than a month. The insurgents have besieged the remote Afghan district for days, killing and injuring dozens of government forces.
The Taliban has intensified battlefield attacks in many provinces of Afghanistan, which is typical for them in the spring. The United States also has stepped up efforts to seek a negotiated settlement to the conflict with the Taliban, and it has encouraged the rebel group to engage in an intra-Afghan peace dialogue.