MAZAR-E-SHARIF -- More than 150 "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) fighters surrendered in Jawzjan Province Wednesday (August 1), Afghan officials said, a move they hailed as the end of the extremist group in the northern part of the country.
The apparent ISIS capitulation comes after weeks of intense fighting with the Taliban in the province that reportedly killed more than 300 militants from both sides.
"Their fighters have surrendered in the past, but this time it is more important because the [ISIS] leader and deputy surrendered with more than 150 fighters all at once," Maj. Mohammad Hanif Rezayee, a spokesperson for the 209th Shaheen Corps of the Afghan National Army, told AFP.
Thirty women and children also handed themselves in, he added.
"With this, the [ISIS] chapter is going to be closed in the north," he added.
However NATO's Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan warned it was "premature" to conclude that this degradation of ISIS "equates to its collapse in the north of the country".
ISIS has fought turf wars with the much larger Taliban since emerging in in Afghanistan in 2014. Estimates on their numbers in the country run as high as about 2,000.
Until a few weeks ago there had been about 500 ISIS fighters in the Darzab and Qush Tepa districts of Jawzjan, provincial governor Lutfullah Azizi has said.
But the Taliban stepped up fighting with the group there after an ISIS attack on their members last month killed at least 15 people, Azizi said.
Army takes over security duties in Nangarhar
The development comes as the Afghan National Army (ANA) took over security in Jalalabad in ISIS's main stronghold of Nangarhar Province after a spate of attacks, mostly claimed by the group.
More checkpoints have been set up and special forces are conducting operations after militants stormed a government office in the city Tuesday (July 31), killing 15 people.
No group has yet claimed responsibility, but ISIS is widely suspected of carrying out the assault.
"To provide better security for the people, the [ANA] is leading the security in the city," Ataullah Khogyani, spokesman for the governor of Nangarhar Province, told AFP.
"Police and other security forces are supporting them."
Under the new security plan, the army will lead efforts "to contain the emergency situation" for a week, Khogyani said, declining to provide details.
Eventually, police and soldiers "will join hands to secure the city", he added.
"ISIS has come under intense pressure from the government and the Taliban. They have lost a lot of men," Gen. (ret.) Hadi Khalid, a military analyst, told AFP.
"The only strategy that can keep them going is to attack soft targets, and that is what they have been doing recently."
Mohammad Ali, a soldier deployed from neighbouring Kunar Province, told AFP at a checkpoint that he and his colleagues would "defend this city until the death".