NANGARHAR -- Families forced to flee Nangarhar Province because of the Khorasan branch of the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS-K) are returning to rebuild their homes and lives after security forces routed the terror group from the area.
Houses that ISIS-K took over to use as bases in Achin, Haska Mina, Spin Ghar, Naziyan and Kot districts were mostly destroyed by the insurgents.
"I lived here four years ago, and when ISIS came, it didn't harm anyone in the beginning, but it later started killing people," said Sayed Muhammad Shinwari, 55, a resident of the Bandar area.
"I had to leave my home late at night along with my wife, six children and one cow, and we went to Ghani Khel on foot and then headed to Torkham, where we settled."
"I didn't have money to pay for transporting our belongings, and ISIS didn’t allow us to move anything out of our houses."
Shinwari recently returned to his village and has been busy rebuilding a collapsed room at his house with the help of his neighbours.
"Our homes have been turned into ruins," he said. "ISIS destroyed our rooms, and it has looted everything we had in our house."
"But now, all of our fellow villagers have started working collectively on rebuilding our home," Shinwari said.
Lal Muhammad Khan, 40, a resident of the Takhto area in Achin District whose house ISIS also destroyed, said he is happy that the terrorists have been cleared so that he can rebuild his house.
"Believe it or not, when I returned, I couldn't recognise our village because ISIS had ruined everything," said Shinwari. "Now, I am working to rebuild my guestroom as Shinwaris love their guests."
"We are not worried now, and we'll work together with our security forces to secure our areas and live in peace," said Khan.
Between September and November 2019, the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF) dealt ISIS-K a series of territorial setbacks and "existentially threatening blows" and have since managed to prevent the return of fighters and curtailed the group's revenue sources, United Nations (UN) monitors reported May 27.
ISIS-K issued a statement last November 17, admitting the group's defeat in Nangarhar and saying its members had had nothing to eat for weeks.
'We don't have any fear of ISIS'
In the Morgai area of Achin District, once overrun by ISIS-K, Afghan security forces recently established security checkpoints to ensure peace in the region.
"We lived through much hardship during the past five years," said Faqirullah Rawan, a resident of the area. "Because of ISIS, we moved to Bati Kot District, where we lived with our relatives. We had a terrible life. After ISIS was defeated, the government forces built security checkpoints here, and now we live in peace."
Residents of the Gorgora area of Haska Mina District, where ISIS had its Khorasan headquarters, said they are relieved that they can finally return to their homes.
"Now, we don't have any fear of ISIS because the security forces have come and maintained our security," said Basharmal, a local resident who recently returned home.
"We are building our houses and living a normal life," he said. "Some of our fields remained idle for a few years, while on some fields, ISIS grew crops. But now that we have returned, we will grow our crops on them."
"Our lives are improving, and the security forces have built checkposts near us to ensure our security."
Authorities will rebuild the civilians' houses that ISIS-K destroyed in six districts, vowed Ataullah Khogyani, a spokesperson for the Nangarhar governor.
"Those houses that were destroyed during clashes with ISIS in six districts of Achin, Haska Mina, Spin Ghar, Naziyan, Kot and Pacheragam will be rebuilt based on President [Ashraf] Ghani's instructions," he said.
"Residents will be able to return to a normal life," he said. "A survey is under way to find out how many homes have been destroyed. Residents will receive support to rebuild their homes after the survey is complete."