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15 Jun, 2017 07:17

ISIS seizes territory around once-Bin Laden stronghold Tora Bora in Afghanistan

ISIS seizes territory around once-Bin Laden stronghold Tora Bora in Afghanistan

Islamic State fighters have captured a giant cave stronghold from the Taliban which was once Osama bin Laden’s hideout in the early 2000s, Afghan officials have confirmed. The complex, called Tora Bora, still has strategic and symbolic importance.

Islamic State claimed its militants have already captured Tora Bora, AP reported. An audio message broadcast on the jihadists’ Radio Khilafat late on Wednesday claimed that the battle is over. 

Later in the day, Afghan officials acknowledged the seizure of Tora Bora.

"Those areas around Tora Bora were a Taliban stronghold, but now Daesh [IS]militants captured them during fighting," Shah Wali, a local police commander, told Reuters.

After capturing the nearby district of Achin, IS has been looking for a second stronghold, he added.

Meanwhile, the Taliban, which controlled the cave complex before the IS offensive, said the terrorist group had managed to gain control over adjacent villages, but denied the loss of Tora Bora.

Reuters also cited Abu Omar Khorasani, an Islamic State commander in Afghanistan, who told the news agency: "We are in Tora Bora but this is not the end. The plan is to take more territory from the government and the Taliban."

Islamic State (IS, previously ISIS/ISIL) launched an assault on Tora Bora late on Tuesday night, Attahullah Khogyani, a provincial official in Nangarhar, told AP. Skirmishes with the Taliban and local villagers continued into the day, and the terrorist group had seized the vicinity around the mountain stronghold by Wednesday.

“I can confirm that the ISIS fighters occupied some areas around Tora Bora, but not Tora Bora itself,” said Khogyani. There has been no statement from the American command or the Kabul government so far.

At least 12 Taliban militants were killed in the firefight, Hazrat Ali, a Nangarhar lawmaker, confirmed. “Based on our information from local people, hundreds of Isis fighters attacked Taliban militants in Tora Bora,” Ali said.

IS has also taken control of many hilltops overlooking Tora Bora, and even installed heavy artillery on their summits, said Shirin Agha Faqiri, a spokesman for the Afghan army corps stationed in eastern Nangarhar.

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

READ MORE: ‘Death to Daesh!’ Thousands protest against ISIS in western Afghanistan (PHOTOS)

Islamic State’s capture of the Tora Bora cave complex on Wednesday may be an important victory for the terrorist group in its fight against its Islamist rival, the Taliban.

Over the past years, Islamic State’s branch in Afghanistan has gained ground in some of the country’s provinces, taking sizeable swaths of land from its Islamist foe, the Taliban.

Although the groups have made some minor attempts to agree on a truce, the negotiations have yielded little to no results. Experts believe IS has been more successful than the Taliban at attracting new recruits and followers. Michael Maloof, a former Pentagon analyst, told RT that an “increase of the Taliban also joining ISIS” is a worrying trend.

“ISIS is rising as well in Afghanistan and an increasing number of Taliban commanders is swearing allegiance to ISIS,” he said last Sunday. 

On Wednesday, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani directed the country’s 201st army corps to move against Islamic State in the districts adjacent to the Tora Bora area, the New York Times reported. The troops should start ground, air, and artillery strikes against the militants as soon as possible, said Alim Eshaqzai, the deputy governor of Nangarhar.