The Taliban claimed it has “completely defeated” the Islamic State’s Khorasan Province in the northern Afghan province of Jawzjan after a coordinated operation that was launched from three different locations. More than 150 Islamic State members, including the group’s military commander for the north, reportedly surrendered to the Afghan government.
The complex Taliban operation designed to eject the Islamic State from Jawzjan district, which was confirmed in the Afghan press, highlights the Taliban’s ability to coordinate and mass for attacks in the Afghan north.
However, it is unlikely that the Islamic State has been “completely defeated” in the north. The group still has a presence in other districts in Jawzjan as well as neighboring Sar-i-Pul and Faryab provinces. Additionally, the Islamic State has proven to be resilient. In Nangarhar province, it has withstood several Taliban offensives as well as a campaign by US and Afghan forces that has lasted for three years.
According to a statement released on Voice of Jihad, the Taliban’s official website, “a special unit of Islamic Emirate’s Mujahideen” gathered in Jawzjan and the neighboring provinces of Sar-i-Pul and Faryab before launching the attack against Islamic State fighters based in the district of Darzab several days ago. The “special unit” is very likely the Red Unit, the Taliban’s shock troops that spearhead its major attacks throughout the country.
The Taliban claimed it killed “153 Daesh criminals” and “seriously wounded” 100 more, while capturing 134 fighters. The Taliban said 17 of its fighters were killed and 13 more were wounded during the offensive in Darzab. Additionally, it seized a large quantity of war material, including weapons, vehicles, radios, and other items.
Three senior Islamic State leaders were among the more than 150 Islamic State members who surrendered to the Afghan government.
The number of Islamic State casualties has not been independently confirmed, but the number of defections was backed up by the Afghan media.
Mawlavi Habibul Rahman, the Islamic State’s military leader for the north, and Mufti Nematullah were among the more than 150 fighters who turned themselves in to the Afghan government, according to TOLONews. The Taliban also claimed that a leader known as “Sibghatullah” also surrendered. Rahman replaced Qari Hikmatullah, the Islamic State’s top commander in the north who also served as the group’s senior foreign fighter facilitator, in April after the US killed him in an airstrike in Faryab province.
The Taliban and the Islamic State’s Khorasan Province have been fighting for control over Jawzjan for well over two years. The conflict escalated in mid-July, when the Taliban launched an offensive to retake Darzab and other areas in the north. [See LWJ report, Taliban, Islamic State continue battle in northern Afghanistan.]
The Islamic State’s Khorasan province in the north is primarily comprised of disaffected local Taliban commanders and fighters (Hikmattullah, Nematullah, and Rahman were local Taliban leaders) and the faction of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan that swore allegiance to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi.
The presence of the Islamic State in the north as well as in the eastern province of Nangarhar threatens the Taliban’s narrative that it leads the jihad to oust Western forces in Afghanistan and that it is the only legitimate resistance. The Taliban has been forced to divert significant resources that could be used to fight the Afghan government in an effort to defeat the Islamic State.