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Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter shake hands in Kabul, Afghanistan on July 12, 2016.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter shake hands in Kabul, Afghanistan on July 12, 2016. (Tim D. Godbee/U.S. Navy)

KABUL, Afghanistan — President Ashraf Ghani exhorted Afghan forces in Nangarhar province on Friday to rout Islamic State militants operating in eastern Afghanistan.

Ghani in March declared Islamic State militants had been defeated in eastern parts of the country, where they controlled several remote districts. But the militants have had a resurgence in recent weeks and fighting has displaced hundreds of people and left dozens dead or wounded.

During a brief visit to Nangarhar province on Friday, Ghani addressed Afghan forces fighting the Islamic State militants, who have struggled to gain a foothold in Afghanistan.

“What relations does Daesh have with us?” Ghani asked, using an Arabic acronym for the group. “Are we sharing forefathers? Tell me what we share together, what dispute do they have with us?”

“I want to announce from this platform that the brave Selab Army Corps will destroy Daesh within a few weeks,” the Afghan Tolonews website quoted Ghani as saying.

Nangarhar police spokesman Hazrat Hussain Mashraqiwal said the revival of Islamic State was helped by the province’s long, mountainous border with Pakistan.

“When they were defeated [in March] they went back to their hideouts, they got reorganized, and showed up again,” he said. “They will plan big things for a long time, but as soon as our forces reach them, they will be defeated.”

U.S. airstrikes have supported the Afghans’ counterterrorism operations in the east, as the U.S. said it would be shifting more of its focus to the region.

Haji Gulrez Khan a tribal leader in Nangarhar’s Kot district, where Islamic State loyalists last month attacked residential areas killing at least eight civilians and burning down close to two dozen homes, welcomed Ghani’s visit and pledge of support.

“Right now in Nangarhar, it is dangerous, and people are living in fear, especially in those Daesh stronghold areas,” Khan said. “Daesh has carried out very cruel atrocities that even the Taliban didn’t do.”

Zubair Babakarkhail contributed to this report.

wellman.phillip@stripes.com Twitter: @PhillipWellman

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Phillip is a reporter and photographer for Stars and Stripes, based in Kaiserslautern, Germany. From 2016 to 2021, he covered the war in Afghanistan from Stripes’ Kabul bureau. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics.
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