KABUL: More than 600 Daesh sympathizers, many of them foreigners, surrendered to the Afghan government this month due to Kabul’s sustained operations in the eastern province of Nangarhar, officials said on Sunday.
President Ashraf Ghani, in a meeting with defense and security chiefs, hailed the development.
“President Ghani congratulated the Afghan Security and Defense Forces on their latest victory against Daesh in Nangarhar province,” Sediq Seddiqi, Ghani’s chief spokesman, said in a statement, adding that hundreds of Daesh fighters had “surrendered to the Afghan forces after their defeat” in an Afghan military operation.
News of the surrender is the first of its kind on such a scale since the emergence of the group five years ago.
It follows the killing of Daesh leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi in a US operation last month, and the deaths of a number of the network’s commanders in Afghanistan over the last year in joint Afghan and US-led operations.
The Taliban — the main insurgent group which used to rule Afghanistan before its ouster in 2001 — had tightened its noose on Daesh, too.
Reports of the surrender could be a major boost for Afghan forces and the government, which has been locked in infighting and faces a growing issue over the undeclared outcome of the September 28 presidential elections. It also faces daily attacks from Taliban forces.
The Afghan Ministry of Defense said the fighters included nationals from Pakistan, Iran and Central Asia as wall as some of their families.
“With the increase in crushing operations of defense and security forces against terrorists in Nangahar … 615 Daesh fighters with their families have surrendered,” it said.
Afghan Interior Minister Masoud Andrabi said on Sunday that the local Daesh group, the so-called Islamic State of Khorasan, or IS-K, had been “completely defeated and driven out” of their strongholds in Nangarhar.
The Taliban, who have long accused the government of aiding Daesh, expressed doubts over the authenticity of the reports.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid blamed government forces for “rescuing Daesh fighters who were under the siege of the Taliban” in the area.
There are no firm estimates about the number of Daesh fighters currently in Afghanistan.
Some analysts believe the death of Al-Baghdadi and loss of the group’s leaders in Afghanistan had weakened it.
“Daesh is an alien phenomena here and it is natural that in a war when there is pressure, you would either fight or surrender,” Gen. Attqiqullah Amarkhail told Arab News.
“Daesh has no room here, it has lost its commanders in the fighting and the killing of Al-Baghdadi deprived it of resources and funding. You cannot run a war without resources and people’s help and people do not like Daesh at all here,” he added.