The U.S military is adding troops in eastern Afghanistan for an offensive against Daesh, U.S and Afghan officials said, a move intended to roll back the militant group’s gains in areas near the Pakistan border.
AFP reported that Gen. John Nicholson, the top U.S commander in Afghanistan, said he was making use of a special authority to bring in additional assets, including ground forces, for short-term counterterrorism operations.
He wouldn’t indicate how many extra troops had entered Afghanistan, or the timing of their arrival, but said operations were ongoing.
“If I need to, I can bring in additional assets, and this could be reconnaissance, it could be air assets, it could even be ground assets,” Nicholson said in an interview this week.
“We brought in additional assets this time and we’ll do it again as needed to defeat” Daesh, he said.
In January, President Barack Obama gave U.S forces more leeway to attack Daesh. Last month, Obama also agreed to loosen rules of military engagement, reinstating an authority to take offensive action against the Taliban, reported Associated Press.
He also said he plans to slow the withdrawal of troops, leaving 8,400 in the country when his term ends next year, down from around 9,800 troops now.
The additional forces aren’t included in the total because they are members of the military’s global counterterrorism force and will leave Afghanistan after the operation is completed, a senior U.S official said.
Nicholson said such deployments occurred often across the region. “These assets move around across the theater as required by commanders on the ground,” he said.
Nicholson said the additional special operations forces had been authorized for missions that would focus on Daesh strongholds in the districts of Achin and Kot.
He said the first phase of the operation, named Green Sortie, involves airstrikes and missions to kill and capture enemy commanders. He declined to say how many troops were involved, reported AP.
Afghan troops have been carrying out an operation in the Kot district this past week, where they have made steady progress.
AP reports that Haji Hayat Khan, the leader of several anti-Islamic State militias in the east, said American troops had deployed in Kot on Friday.
“We have air assistance from the coalition forces,” he added.
An Afghan security forces commander in the east, Gen. Mohammad Zaman Waziri said the next phase will involve a deployment of Afghan ground forces to clear the area, with close air support provided by the U.S. and Afghan air forces.
“For a month, we will target them with airstrikes and special forces operations,” he said in a recent interview. “And then next month, we will launch a ground operation against them.”
Daesh first emerged in districts of eastern Nangarhar province as foreign forces were withdrawing in 2014. Since then, the militant group has sought to expand its presence and recruit more fighters.
Last week the group struck the capital Kabul for the first time, with a suicide attack that killed more than 80 people.