U.S. Army Special Forces and Afghan commandos have captured a major ISIS stronghold in Afghanistan, defense officials told Stars and Stripes on Saturday, effectively depriving the terror group of its local capital in one of the largest joint operations ever conducted between U.S. and Afghan special operations forces.
The joint force of Afghan Special Security Forces (ASSF) and Green Berets killed 167 fighters affiliated with ISIS-K, the terror network's Afghan offshoot, during a "multipronged" assault on the town of Gurgoray that officials say served as the group's primary base of operations in the eastern Nangarhar province, according to Stars and Stripes.
The Nangarhar province was the site of the first U.S. combat death of 2018 when Army Sgt. 1st Class Mihail Golin, a Green Beret with assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne), was killed by ISIS fighters during a dismounted patrol there on January 1st.
The U.S. or Afghan military force endured zero fatalities during the offensive, which involved three ASSF companies and some 600 Green Berets as part of the mission.
“This area, two months ago, was controlled by Daesh,” NATO commander Brig. Gen. John W. Brennan Jr. told Stars and Stripes. “We pushed them into the mountains, so they cannot harm the people here.”
It's worth noting that the victory came following a month of ASSF-led raids against ISIS-K fighters in Deh Bala initiated explicitly to take advantage of the June ceasefire between the Afghan government and the Taliban. Indeed, Resolute Support and U.S. Forces - Afghanistan commander Gen. John Nicholson announced that month that operations against ISIS-K "will be intensified" during the Taliban ceasefire period.
But this critical blow to Afghanistan likely won't presage an uptick in ceasefires between the Afghan government and the Taliban. “All the people feel very happy about the elimination of ISIS,“ Ghulam Sakhi, an Afghan security forces commander involved in the offensive, told Stars and Stripes through an interpreter. “As soon as ISIS is finished, the Taliban will come back. They were scared of ISIS.”
In what appear to be his first public remarks on U.S. national security since his resignation as Secretary of Defense, retired Marine Gen. James Mattis offered a word of caution to President Donald Trump amid escalating tensions with Iran on Tuesday.
"The United States should buy time to keep peace and stability and allow diplomats to work diplomacy on how to keep peace for one more hour, one more day, one more week, a month or a year," Mattis said during remarks in the United Arab Emirates.
"Iran's behavior must change," Mattis added, "[but] the military must work to buy time for diplomats to work their magic."
With the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group and a gaggle of B-52 Stratofortress bombers flexing their muscles in the Middle East, lawmakers are mounting yet another effort to repeal the post-9/11 legislation that could be used as a potential legal justification for a military conflict with Iran.
The House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday voted along party lines to add an amendment to the annual defense budget that would roll back the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force that, passed just days after the September 11th attacks, provided a legislative blank check for the U.S. military to pursue terror groups around the world.