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U.S. Broadens Fight Against ISIS With Attacks in Afghanistan
The United States has carried out at least a dozen operations — including commando raids and airstrikes — in the past three weeks against militants in Afghanistan aligned with the Islamic State, expanding the Obama administration's military campaign against the terrorist group beyond Iraq and Syria.
The operations followed President Obama's decision last month to broaden the authority of American commanders to attack the Islamic State's new branch in Afghanistan. The administration — which has been accused by Republicans of not having a strategy to defeat the group — is revamping plans for how it fights the terrorist organization in regions where it has developed affiliates.
Many of these recent raids and strikes in Afghanistan have been in the Tora Bora region of Nangarhar Province — an inhospitable, mountainous area in the eastern part of the country, near the border with Pakistan. It was in Tora Bora that Osama bin Laden and other senior Qaeda militants took refuge during the American-led invasion in 2001, and eventually evaded capture by slipping into Pakistan.
American commanders in Afghanistan said they believed that between 90 and 100 Islamic State militants had been killed in the recent operations. Intelligence officials estimate that there are roughly 1,000 Islamic State fighters in Nangarhar Province, and perhaps several thousand more elsewhere in the country. But even the generals leading the missions acknowledge that a resilient militant organization can recruit new fighters to replace those killed in American attacks.
"The new authority gives us the ability to take the gloves off to hold them in check, and we have been targeting them heavily and it has had quite an effect," said Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, the military's deputy chief of staff for operations in Afghanistan. "But just because you take a bunch of guys off the battlefield doesn't mean you will stop this organization."
Although Mr. Obama had declared an end to combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, the operations are part of a continuing and potentially expanding American military footprint in south-central Asia, the Middle East and Africa for the fight against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.
[Source: By Michael S. Schmidt and Eric Schmitt, The New York Times, Washington, 31Jan16]
War in Afghanistan & Iraq
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