KABUL -- Afghans praised the National Directorate of Security (NDS) after its special forces in a covert operation captured Aslam Farooqi, leader of the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) in Afghanistan.
Afghan forces nabbed Farooqi, also known as Abdullah Orakzai, along with 19 other ISIS fighters last week in Kandahar Province in a "complex operation", the NDS said in a statement April 4.
"Qari Zahid, also known as Maaz, ISIS's commander in charge for military operations, and Saifullah, also known as Abu Talha Pakistani, in charge of group's recruiting in Nangarhar Province, were among those arrested," the NDS said.
Farooqi was the mastermind behind an ISIS-claimed attack on a Sikh temple in Kabul last month that killed at least 25 people, an NDS official speaking on condition of anonymity told AFP.
Known as the ISIS Khorasan branch (ISIS-K), the ISIS wing has been on its back foot in recent months following continued operations by Afghan and coalition forces.
In November, Afghan officials said ISIS-K had been defeated in Nangarhar, one of the key provinces where the group first sought to establish a stronghold in 2015.
In the years since, it has claimed responsibility for a string of horrific bombings across Afghanistan.
Farooqi admitted to having links with "regional intelligence agencies", the NDS said in its statement.
Praise for NDS forces
Farooqi's arrest could be an irreparable blow to ISIS in Afghanistan, said Gen. (ret.) Hadi Khalid, a Kabul-based military affairs analyst and former deputy interior minister.
"Daesh is one of the terrorist groups that tried really hard to make Afghanistan the centre of its Khorasan branch, but fortunately the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF) thwarted its plans and defeated the group," Khalid said, using the Arabic name for ISIS.
"In recent decades, various terrorist groups, such as al-Qaeda, built nests in Afghanistan that could easily pose threats to the world," he said.
"But today, fortunately, the ANDSF -- with help from the international community and especially the United States -- were funded and equipped to such an extent that they are now able to stop any terrorist group from threatening the world from Afghanistan," Khalid said.
Remnants of ISIS are still trying to find a safe haven in Afghanistan, said Abdul Zahir Tamim, a member of the Wolesi Jirga from Ghor Province.
"Although the Afghan and international security forces have defeated Daesh in Afghanistan, the group is trying not to lose its footprint in Afghanistan," he said.
"The capture of the Daesh leader and other prominent members of the group by the ANDSF is a major blow to the group and is one of the great achievements of Afghan forces in the fight against ISIS," Tamim said.
"Daesh has always targeted civilians, religious sites, women and children," he said. "As a representative of the people in parliament, I appreciate the arrest of the ISIS leader by the ANDSF."
Complex, precise, successful
Ahmad, a 26-year-old NDS special forces commander, led the operation that resulted in the arrest of Farooqi and the other ISIS members, TOLOnews reported April 5.
It was the most complex and precise operation he has carried out in his seven years of duty, he said.
"Our operation lasted six days and nights, and we carried out 12 operations," he said. "We carried them [out] slowly because [the enemies] had moved to civilian areas."
"An operation was carried out in four or five parts of the city [in one of the southern provinces], and Aslam Farooqi was in one of the districts when we arrested him," he said.
NDS special forces had originally carried out an operation to arrest Shah Wali, an ISIS member responsible for providing explosives and weapons in Kandahar, Ahmed said, adding that Wali's arrest led to further operations in Kandahar.
ISIS will never be able to succeed in Afghanistan, said Mohammad Salem Hasani, a Kabul-based religious scholar and university professor.
"The ideology of ISIS is in conflict with the religious and cultural beliefs of Afghans, so the group cannot infiltrate Afghanistan or make Afghanistan the capital of its 'Khorasan' [branch]," he said.
Hasani pointed out two factors that led to the defeat of ISIS in Afghanistan.
"One is that Daesh is an extremist group and has misunderstood the religion, which is not acceptable to Afghans; that is why it could not recruit Afghans such it did in Syria and Iraq," he said.
"Secondly, the ANDSF eliminated its leaders through well-planned operations."