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Afghanistan on track to destroy ISIL by next year: officials

By Sulaiman

An Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF) unit conducts an operation against "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) militants in Kot District, Nangarhar Province, February 16. [Noorullah Shirzada/AFP]

KABUL -- Afghan forces are closing in on "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) militants in Nangarhar Province, officials say, predicting the eradication of the group over the next 12 months.

Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF), aided by coalition aircraft, launched Operation Shaheen 25 in the province February 12 to crack down on ISIL's activities there.

By next spring, Afghanistan will witness the destruction of ISIL, Afghan National Army (ANA) Chief of Staff Gen. Qadam Shah Shahim said in Kabul February 18.

"Over the past year, security forces have been able to severely damage ISIL's war machine," he said. "They killed 1,955 ISIL members, including 11 of their senior commanders, and reduced ISIL's presence from nine districts to only two ISIL-infested districts."

ANDSF have cleared ISIL from Zabul, Farah and Helmand provinces, and the group functions only in some remote areas of Nangarhar Province, he said.

ISIL under attack

"Afghan security forces have inflicted damaging losses and casualties to ISIL," Gen. Dawlat Waziri, a spokesman for the Defence Ministry, told Salaam Times.

The 11 ISIL commanders killed in combat in Afghanistan include former Taliban commander and founder of ISIL in Afghanistan Abdul Rauf Khadem, killed in Helmand in February 2015; Hafiz Saeed Khan, chief of ISIL's Khorasan branch comprising Pakistan, Afghanistan and the surrounding region, killed in Nangarhar last July; and Gul Zaman, former deputy leader of ISIL's Khorasan branch, killed in July 2015.

"Some foreign nationals were among the ISIL members who were killed, including four from Tajikistan, eleven from Uzbekistan, seven from Chechnya, four Uighurs and eight Arabs," Waziri said.

The political and military support Afghanistan is receiving from the international community contributes to ISIL's decimation, he said.

Other factors behind the annihilation of ISIL are new pilots in the Afghan air force, a build-up in the military's capabilities, the arrival of modern equipment and the work of trainers and advisors from allies.

"Afghanistan's international strategic allies have promised a decisive contribution and co-operation to fight against terrorism, particularly ISIL," said Waziri. "We're planning to destroy all of ISIL's strategic and administrative facilities and military and training camps, as well as ISIL's headquarters."

Epicentre of ISIL's destruction

Civilian uprisings and security forces have severely weakened the group in Nangarhar Province, its last redoubt, say provincial officials.

"The security forces in co-operation with members of popular uprisings have eradicated ISIL in Nazian and Pacheragam districts, and their presence is limited to Achin and Haska Mina districts," Ataullah Khogyani, a spokesman for the provincial governor, told Salaam Times.

"The Afghan ground forces have started Operation Shaheen 25 with the goal of annihilating ISIL," he said. "The coalition air forces participate in cracking down on ISIL."

Residents of Nangarhar Province will welcome the end of ISIL.

"ISIL has committed the most heinous atrocities in Nangarhar," said Ghafour Javid, a civil society activist in Nangarhar Province.

"They killed religious scholars and tribal elders, burned down people's homes, murdered civilians including women and children, closed schools and set clinics on fire," he told Salaam Times.

"The people of Nangarhar will no longer tolerate such anti-human and anti-Islamic actions," he said. "They will conduct ... popular uprisings against this terrorist group, as they did previously, and will celebrate, side by side with the security forces, the annihilation of ISIL."

No tolerance for extremism

Another factor in ISIL's downfall in Afghanistan is the group's extremist ideology.

"ISIL's thinking and ideology contradict core beliefs and customs of ... Afghanistan," Dawood Rawosh, a sociology professor at Kabul University, told Salaam Times. "That's why this extremist group ... not only failed to find a firm popular support; it had to contend with uprisings."

Any movement that defies popular thinking in Afghanistan will be unable to hold its ground, he said.

"There was a time when the Taliban spread and expanded," he said. "Their extremism and fundamentalism, however, led Afghan society to oppose them, and soon the Taliban government [of 1996-2001] was defeated."

The government possesses the will and the plan to crush ISIL, Kabul-based security analyst Heshmat Amarkhil told Salaam Times.

"Not long ago, the government prepared Afghanistan's National Security Strategy, in which the annihilation of ISIL was listed as the top priority," he said. "Killing ISIL's senior leaders, coupled with the limitation of their areas of activity, represents movement toward the group's defeat."

"Military support of and co-operation with the ANDSF from Afghanistan's allies have made the destruction of ISIL likelier than at any time in the past," he said.

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