Unilateral U.S. efforts and a spring offensive by Afghan
forces have significantly decreased the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’s
footprint in Afghanistan, the NATO-led Resolute Support mission’s deputy chief
of staff for communications told Pentagon reporters today
Speaking by teleconference from the Afghan capital of Kabul,
Army Brig. Gen. Charles H. Cleveland said U.S. Forces Afghanistan continues its
authorized mission to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaida, and noted the
unilateral counterterrorism mission also was extended to ISIL in January 2015
after that terror organization raised its flag in the country.
But the battle for control has changed as ISIL is pushed
back, he said.
“Our overall view now is we are having an effect [by]
putting pressure on [ISIL], specifically in Nangarhar,” Cleveland said. One
indicator is ISIL appears to exist in two or three districts today, compared to
six to eight districts three months ago, he said.
ISIL Forces Moving in Effort to Survive
Additionally, ISIL fighters are trying to move into Kunar
and Nuristan provinces or farther south into Ghazni, Cleveland added.
“We don’t think they’re moving because they’re able to
expand or they have additional capacity,” he said. “We think they’re trying to
survive. They’re under pressure, and are trying to escape from the areas where
we’ve aggressively targeted them.”
Another indication of ISIL’s decreasing numbers in
Afghanistan is the number of fighters who are defecting, Cleveland said.
“They’re either laying down their arms and coming back to the government or
trying to get back into the Taliban,” he added.
Partnering With Afghan Forces
Cleveland updated reporters on the mission to train, advise
and assist Afghan national defense and security forces on numerous levels in
the effort. “Specifically, we partner with them at the tactical level, and
particularly with their special operations forces,” he said.
During a 36-hour mission last week involving unilateral U.S.
strikes against ISIL targets, Afghan special operations forces were able to
move into the Kot district in Nangarhar province and clear part of a valley,
Cleveland pointed out.
“It’s a partnership as we move forward on all of these
counterterrorism operations,” the general said.
Three weeks into their spring offensive, has Afghan forces
have transitioned from last year’s defensive to an offensive one in 2016,
Cleveland said. “They’re trying to take the fight to the enemy,” he said.
“We’ve already seen evidence of them in northeastern Kunduz, engaging the
Afghan forces also have begun re-establishing their presence
in Helmand province with an offensive approach, particularly where they are
trying to clear territory in the east, Cleveland said.
(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkDoD)