Mil­i­tants ad­vance on old bin Laden hide­out

The Washington Times Daily - - WORLD - BY RAHIM FAIEZ AND AMIR SHAH

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN | Ad­vanc­ing Is­lamic State fight­ers cap­tured some ter­ri­tory around Tora Bora, the for­mer strong­hold of Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan’s east­ern Nan­garhar prov­ince, of­fi­cials said Wed­nes­day.

The push and cap­ture of the giant cave com­plex that once housed the late al Qaeda chief would be a ma­jor coup for the Is­lamic State group in its in­creas­ingly deadly ri­valry with the Afghan Tal­iban. The caves had un­til now been un­der Tal­iban con­trol.

At­tahul­lah Kh­ogyani, a spokesman in Nan­garhar, said IS at­tacks in the moun­tain range be­gan late on Tues­day night. Clashes con­tin­ued into the day, with IS mil­i­tants bat­tling the Tal­iban and some lo­cal vil­lagers in the area.

By Wed­nes­day, the Is­lamic State group had man­aged to seize some ter­ri­tory around Tora Bora — but not the bin Laden hide­out it­self, Mr. Kh­ogyani said, adding that there were un­spec­i­fied ca­su­al­ties on both sides.

“I can con­firm that the IS fight­ers oc­cu­pied some ar­eas around Tora Bora, but not Tora Bora it­self,” said Mr. Kh­ogyani, re­fer­ring to the cave com­plex from where bin Laden and hun­dreds of other al Qaeda mem­bers es­caped a mas­sive U.S. bomb­ing cam­paign in De­cem­ber 2001.

There has been no com­ment from IS or the Tal­iban so far. How­ever, Hazrat Ali, a law­maker from Nan­garhar, con­firmed that at least 12 Tal­iban fight­ers were killed in the bat­tle with IS in Tora Bora. “Based on our in­for­ma­tion from lo­cal peo­ple, hun­dreds of IS fight­ers at­tacked Tal­iban mil­i­tants in Tora Bora,” said Mr. Ali. He added that the Tora Bora moun­tain range, with the huge caves that once hid bin Laden, is strate­gi­cally a very im­por­tant lo­ca­tion for the Is­lamic State group, giv­ing it a re­mote, se­cure lo­ca­tion from which to launch at­tacks on both the Afghan gov­ern­ment forces as well as the Tal­iban.

Shirin Agha Faqiri, a spokesman for the army crops in east­ern Nan­garhar, said IS fight­ers have cap­tured much of the Tora Bora moun­tains, and even po­si­tioned some of their heavy ar­tillery on the moun­tain peaks there.

“Peo­ple and the lo­cal vil­lagers are flee­ing to other parts of the prov­ince,” he added.

Tora Bora was bin Laden’s last hide­out in Afghanistan, where he and his al Qaeda fol­low­ers where hosted by the Tal­iban. Only a few months af­ter the Sept. 11, 2001 ter­ror at­tacks, bin Laden es­caped a U.S. as­sault in Tora Bora, and later man­aged to flee to Pak­istan.

Bin Laden was killed in a U.S. Navy SEALs raid in May 2011 in the army gar­ri­son town of Ab­bot­tabad in neigh­bor­ing Pak­istan, a raid that many Pak­ista­nis have felt vi­o­lated their coun­try’s sovereignty. Al Qaeda’s No. 2 and bin Laden’s deputy, Ay­man al-Zawahri, took over the ter­ror net­work.

The Tal­iban have con­tin­ued their in­sur­gency in Afghanistan and over the past two years, an af­fil­i­ate of the Is­lamic State group which has been fight­ing in Iraq and Syria also emerged in Afghanistan, gain­ing a foothold in the coun­try’s east and clash­ing with the Tal­iban.

The United States es­ti­mates that there are about 600 to 800 IS fight­ers in Afghanistan, mostly in Nan­garhar. The U.S. has con­cen­trated on fight­ing them while also sup­port­ing Afghan forces against the Tal­iban.

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