WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Obama administration has “significantly” increased its air strikes against the Islamic State branch in Afghanistan since the president granted commanders broader authority last month to target the jihadist group there, a U.S. military spokesman said on Thursday.
“We have significantly increased our pressure on Daesh in Afghanistan, particularly in the Nangarhar province. That has had an effect, but it’s not just U.S. airstrikes that are having an effect,” Brig. Gen. Wilson Shoffner, a U.S. military spokesman, said in a briefing to Pentagon reporters Wednesday, using the Arabic acronym to refer to the Islamic State. “It’s Afghanistan – Afghan security forces that have been putting pressure on Daesh for sometime now. So it’s a combination of all of that that has Daesh relatively contained in the southern part of Nangarhar province.”
Late last month, President Obama granted the U.S. military legal authority to take offensive action against the ISIS branch in Afghanistan known as the Khorasan Province (ISIL-K), reports The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), citing unnamed senior Obama administration officials.
However, the American military still lacks the authority to strike Taliban terrorists, unless they attack first, a point made by Gen. John Campbell, the top commander of U.S. and international troops.
“We don’t have the authority to target the Taliban and we don’t specifically target the Taliban based on affiliation,” declared Schoffner, echoing Campbell’s testimony before the House Armed Services Committee on February 2.
Citing the Afghan Ministry of Interior, Reuters points out that Afghan and U.S.-led foreign forces carried out an estimated 20 joint operations against ISIS’s Nangarhar stronghold, in January alone.
“On Haqqani network, we remain concerned about Haqqani network. What we often see here is we’ll see the Taliban, we’ll see the Haqqani network, and sometimes Al Qaida working together. You know, one of the number two leaders in the Taliban is a Haqqani member,” warned the U.S. military spokesman. “So the two are clearly related and are working together to some degree. So we take them very seriously. We — we always have and we will continue to. The change in authorities has given us additional flexibility.”
Shoffner declined to give specific information on the number of strikes being carried out against ISIS, saying, “We take it very seriously as well. What we want is to prevent Daesh from becoming any more capable than it currently is in Afghanistan.”
Gen. Shoffner went on to say that Afghan and American forces have contained ISIS in four to five districts in eastern Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province, located along the border with Pakistan, noting that there are up to 3,000 ISIS fighters in the eastern part of the country.
The spokesman acknowledged that jihadists teaming up with ISIS in the Khorasan region, which covers Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, and parts of India, are typically former members of the Afghan Taliban or the separate Pakistani Taliban, known as TTP.