NANGARHAR -- The "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) Khorasan branch has been defeated in its main stronghold in Nangarhar Province and is on the verge of annihilation, according to Afghan officials.
"In the past 20 days, hundreds of ISIL members, including a number of their commanders, have been killed in Nangarhar Province as a result of operations conducted by the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces [ANDSF]," Gen. Dawlat Waziri, spokesman for the Ministry of Defence, told Salaam Times April 8.
"The militants' bases, centres, and weapons and ammunition depots in Kot, Haska Mina and Achin districts were destroyed, and the group had to flee to mountainous areas," he said.
This past Friday (April 14), the US military's largest non-nuclear bomb killed dozens of ISIL militants in Nangarhar when it smashed their mountain hideouts.
ISIL leaders and commanders, including a number of foreign fighters, were present at the centre when the bomb struck.
Initial figures put the death toll of ISIL militants at 36, but on Saturday (April 15) the Afghan officials put the number at over 90.
Operation Hamza, launched March 31, the main objective of which is annihilation of ISIL in Nangarhar, has been instrumental, Waziri said.
"During this operation, Afghan forces supported by air forces of the Resolute Support Mission, have conducted heavy air and ground offensives against ISIL's last safe havens in Nangarhar's mountainous areas," he said.
Operation Hamza, followed by other operations, will destroy ISIL in Nangarhar, he said.
Residents join fight against ISIL
"ISIL in Nangarhar committed all kinds of crimes, oppression and atrocities," said Ataullah Khogyani, a spokesman for the provincial governor.
"That was precisely why Nangarhar residents and civilians stood shoulder to shoulder with the Afghan security forces in every battle they fought against ISIL," he told Salaam Times. "In fact, public support and co-operation with the Afghan government and security forces were among the leading reasons for ISIL's failure in this province."
"Operations conducted by Afghan security forces in co-operation with international air forces have dealt irreversible blows to ISIL," Khogyani said.
"ISIL is breathing its last in Nangarhar, and this year will be the year of ISIL's eradication from Nangarhar," he said.
'Despicable, un-Islamic' crimes
ISIL's anti-Islamic and anti-Afghan actions are unacceptable to the people of Nangarhar, said Faisal Shinwari, a human rights activist from Jalalabad, the provincial capital.
For that reason, he said, the residents of Nangarhar were the first among Afghans to rise up against ISIL.
"Ever since ISIL members set foot in Nangarhar, they started committing crimes and atrocities, and acting against the public’s culture and religion," he told Salaam Times.
Shinwari listed ISIL's numerous crimes against the residents of Kot District, including burning down houses, kidnapping women to be hostages or sexual slaves, murdering religious scholars and tribal elders, imprisoning and later executing a "huge number" of Nangarhar residents who committed no crime whatsoever, and forcibly extracting religious taxes and fees.
ISIL committed "dozens of other despicable un-Islamic actions, none of which were, nor can they ever be, tolerated by the population of Nangarhar," he said.
"Now that ISIL is on the verge of annihilation, residents will never allow this ruthless group to ever again regroup ... in Nangarhar," he said.
'Determined to eradicate ISIL'
"ISIL is the number-one enemy of the Afghan government," said Javid Faisal, deputy spokesman for Afghanistan's Chief Executive Office.
"ISIL's destruction is on the top of the list of priorities for the Afghan government's war strategy," he told Salaam Times. "We are conducting our final efforts to eradicate ISIL."
ISIL's defeat in Nangarhar is imminent, agreed Gen. Gharzai Khwakhuzhi, an official at the Ministry of Interior.
"The Afghan government and the international community alike are determined to eradicate ISIL," he told Salaam Times.
"Numerous and consecutive military operations by security forces have broken the backbone of this group in Nangarhar," he said. "Now that ISIL militants have fled to the mountainous area of Nangarhar, the Afghan air force and its international counterparts can eradicate ISIL terrorists."
ISIL morale 'destroyed'
The Afghan police, army, National Directorate of Security and international forces are all contributing to Operation Hamza, said Nangarhar police spokesman Hazrat Hussain Mashriqiwal.
"This operation has destroyed ISIL's fighting morale in Nangarhar, as well as its it strategic centres in this province," he told Salaam Times.
"This fleeing, cowardly group has lost the courage to fight our forces," he said, adding that the ANDSF, with co-operation and consultation from the Resolute Support Mission forces, are busy destroying the last strongholds of ISIL in Nangarhar.
For its part, NATO's Resolute Support Mission at an April 5 Kabul news conference declared that ISIL will be defeated in Afghanistan in 2017.
The message to ISIL members who face defeat in other countries and assume that Afghanistan will be a safe haven is: "If you come to Afghanistan, you will be killed or captured," said a NATO spokesman, according to the BBC.