KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghan ground forces and coalition airstrikes have killed up to 43 Islamic State militants in attacks in eastern Afghanistan, officials said Tuesday.
The group, which has occupied large areas of Syria, Iraq and Libya, has been struggling to establish a foothold in Afghanistan over the past year. It continues to face tough resistance from security forces and the local Taliban.
A government spokesman in eastern Nangarhar province said a large quantity of weapons and ammunition belonging to the terrorist group was destroyed in the Monday operation.
“A number of Daesh fighters gathered in the Pekha Khwar area intending to attack Afghan security posts, but they were targeted by a drone,” said Attaullah Khogyani, using an Arabic acronym for the extremist group. He said 25 militants were killed in the blast.
Hazrat Hussain Mashreqiwal, a spokesman for Nangarhar police, confirmed the report. He said an additional 18 Islamic State militants have been killed in a separate ground operation by Afghan security forces since Monday. The fighting was part of a military mop-up operation named Shaheen 18 that began 10 days ago.
Col. Michael Lawhorn, spokesman for NATO’s Resolute Support mission, confirmed that a drone strike was carried out in Nangarhar’s Achin district Monday but did not elaborate. Pekha Khwar is in the mountainous district bordering Pakistan.
Islamic State, which has tens of thousands of fighters in Syria and Iraq, has sought, with varying degrees of success, to spread to other regions, including North Africa and Central and South Asia.
An estimated 1,000 to 3,000 fighters pledging loyalty to the group are concentrated in Afghanistan’s remote eastern border regions. Officials said they are operating in small mobile groups trying to stay ahead of the government and Taliban forces pursuing them.
Last month, after an attack on the Pakistani consulate in Nangarhar’s capital, Jalalabad, President Barack Obama gave U.S. commanders the authority to strike Islamic State targets in Afghanistan — the first such order allowing the U.S. military to attack the group outside its strongholds in Syria and Iraq.
Zubair Babakarkhail contributed to this report.