U.S. airstrikes in eastern Afghanistan killed 29 ISIS fighters and struck the terrorist group’s FM radio station, signaling American forces’ continued military action in the war-torn nation — albeit against a different entity that brought them there in the first place.
The strikes occurred Monday evening in Nangarhar province, according to Ataullah Khogyani, a spokesman for that province’s governor. Khogyani said the 29 killed included eight ISIS members who worked on the group’s radio and online efforts.
Until then, ISIS propaganda could be heard on the radio station in Nangarhar’s capital of Jalalabad. Khogyani said the U.S. strikes not only hit the radio facility but destroyed the Islamic extremist group’s internet equipment.
U.S. Army Col. Michael Lawhorn, a spokesman for American forces in Afghanistan, confirmed “two counterterrorism strikes” in Nangarhar province. But he declined to offer details, like what was targeted, what was actually hit and how many people died as a result.
Last month, the State Department’s formal designation of ISIS in Afghanistan and Pakistan as a terrorist organization led to a change in the rules of engagement for U.S. forces, according to U.S. defense officials. Specifically, it meant that the U.S. military now has the legal authority to strike against targets tied to the terror group in Afghanistan — a country where the United States, under President Barack Obama, had steadily been decreasing its military role.
ISIS seen as growing threat in Afghanistan
Afghanistan has been beset by militant organizations for years, with the Taliban and al Qaeda notorious among them. A U.S.-led invasion following the September 11, 2001, attacks ousted the Taliban from power and forced al Qaeda on the run — though now, more than 14 years later, both groups maintain an active, violent presence in Afghanistan.
But the are not the only ones. ISIS, in particular, has emerged in recent months to become a feared terrorist entity worldwide and in Afghanistan, in particular.
Since planting a foothold in Syria and Iraq as the self-declared Islamic State, this group has carried out or inspired attacks elsewhere in Asia, Africa and Europe. CNN first reported last March about its recruiting push in that country, on that appears to have targeted disaffected Taliban.
That same month, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani warned the U.S. Congress about the “terrible threat” the group poses to his country and its neighbors.
“Terrorists neither recognize boundaries nor require passports to spread their message of hate and discord,” Ghani said.
The commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan told Congress last fall that between 1,000 and 3,000 active ISIS members were in Afghanistan.
Gen. John Campbell added, “We have observed the movement’s increased recruiting efforts and growing operational capacity.”
ISIS has been particularly active in Nangarhar province. It claimed responsibility for a motorbike suicide bombing at a Jalalabad bank last April that killed 33 people. And earlier this month, the group issued a statement on affiliated media saying it was behind a bloody attack outside the Pakistani Consulate in the same eastern Afghan city.