U.S. and Afghan soldiers pushed Islamic State fighters out of an area in Afghanistan that the terrorists planned to use as a capital of their local territory.
Afghan commandos and U.S. Special Forces just finished a three-week joint offensive that trapped hundreds of ISIS militants in Gurgoray Valley, in Deh Bala district, 10 miles from the Pakistan border, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.
More than 160 fighters from Islamic State-Khorasan, as the local affiliate is known, were killed, according to military estimates. There were no Afghan or American casualties reported.
Up to 1,750 people were displaced by the fighting but are now beginning to return to their homes.
"Life is getting back to normal," an Afghan soldier who participated in the battle told the Journal. "Those who fled the fighting are slowly returning to their houses."
Last April, U.S. officials estimated that the Islamic State Khorasan Province, the group's branch in Afghanistan and Pakistan, had approximately 700 fighters. In 2016, Gen. John Nicholson, who commands U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said air strikes had mostly limited the Islamic State's presence in Afghanistan to the province of Nangarhar.
ISIS has claimed responsibility for several attacks in Afghanistan. In March it claimed to have perpetrated a suicide bombing targeting the predominantly Shia Hazara minority. The group also said it was behind a suicide bombing in Kabul two months ago that left 25 people dead.
A U.S. airstrike in April killed Qari Hekmatullah, a top Islamic State-Khorasan leader in northern Afghanistan. Hekmatullah's death was seen as a blow to the group's ability to bring in foreign fighters from Central Asia.
Despite the success of the Gurgoray Valley operation, local officials fear ISIS will return to the district now that U.S. and Afghan forces have left.
"We, the district government, don't have the capacity and enough numbers of forces to protect the area," said Rezwanullah Basharmal, the senior Afghan official in Deh Bala.