U.S. and Afghan Forces Liberate Former ISIS Regional Capital in Afghanistan

US Marines from 1st Battalion 7th Marines Regiment walk at dusk in Afghanistan
US Marines from 1st Battalion 7th Marines Regiment walk at dusk in Afghanistan / Getty Images
July 9, 2018

The Islamic State regional capital of Deh Bala has been liberated by United States Special Forces and Afghan troops, military officials said on Saturday.

The U.S. military said 167 ISIS fighters were killed during the protracted operation in Deh Bala which lasted nearly two months, reported. U.S. Special Forces are still sweeping the area to eradicate any lingering signs of the terrorist group, and no American or Afghan troops were killed during the offensive.

"This area, two months ago, was controlled by Daesh," said Brig. Gen. John W. Brennan Jr., commander of NATO forces in eastern Afghanistan. "We pushed them into the mountains, so they cannot harm the people here."

The operation took place near the Afghan border with Pakistan, involving 600 Green Berets and three units of Afghan commandos. Troops arrived by helicopter in April at an operations base near the village of Gargari, which remained an Islamic State stronghold until it was liberated by U.S. and Afghan forces in early June.

U.S. Special Forces and Afghan commandos have now set up checkpoints throughout the Deh Bala region, and American fighter-bombers have continued to attack the Gurgoray Valley to quell any remaining Islamic State fighters.

"This was one of the main green zones that did two things. One, it provided money, finance, logistics to ISIS and we’ve taken that away from them," Lt. Col. Josh Thiel from the U.S. First Special Forces Group told Reuters. "Additionally, ISIS was using this as a site to prepare and move high-profile attacks on Kabul and Jalalabad."

Deh Bala lies just 11 miles west of Achin, where the U.S. military unleashed its largest non-nuclear combat weapon—the MOAB—on an Islamic State base in Nangarhar province in April 2017. The district is also 21 miles south of Jalalabad, making it easily accessible to Islamic State fighters traveling around the province. The terrorist group has claimed a number of suicide attacks in Kabul and Jalalabad in the past two months, including a bombing that killed seven at a gathering of religious leaders and another attack that killed eight at a cricket match.

"The network is very fungible," Brennan told Reuters. "I wouldn’t say the actual suicide bombers came from Deh Bala, but facilitation runs all along the border and part of it used to come through here."

Nangarhar province still remains the deadliest place for U.S. forces as they continue to fight alongside Afghan soldiers. Eight U.S. service members have died in the province since 2017, nearly one-third of the total number of U.S. forces killed in combat over the past year.

Army Sgt. 1st Class Mihail Golin was killed in Nangarhar in January during a foot patrol, becoming the first U.S. combat death of 2018 before the death of Cpl. Joseph Maciel during an apparent insider attack in Afghanistan’s Uruzgan province Saturday.