The leader of the Islamic State’s Afghanistan affiliate, Abdullah Orakzai, and 19 other militants were arrested by Afghan security forces, officials announced on Saturday.
Orakzai, also known as Aslam Farooqi, the militants, and two other high ranking officials were arrested in a “targeted and sophisticated operation,” Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security said in a statement published on Twitter.
Farooqi replaced the previous leader, Abu Omar Khorasan, in November. Khorasan was replaced due to poor performance and demoted, Stars and Stripesreported.
The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction said that sustained pressure from U.S. airstrikes and Afghan security forces operations over the last several months “dismantled” the group’s stronghold in the region.
About 300 ISIS fighters and 1,000 ISIS family members surrendered to the United States and Afghan forces in the region in the fourth quarter of 2019.
The latest development comes as the United States and Afghan officials begin peace talks with other terrorist groups like the Taliban in the region as part of a deal that would send the vast majority of U.S. troops home.
Included in the deal is the agreement between the Taliban that as long as the militant group conducts no acts of terror against the United States and its allies, the United States will begin removing its troops.
AS a sign of good faith between all parties, Afghan and Taliban officials began a prisoner exchange, American Military Newsreported.
The Afghan government is set to release 6,000 Taliban prisoners and released 100 of them on March 31. U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper called the move “good news” that day.
In a Washington Post op-ed, Esper said that the peace deal the United States struck was thebest chance of bringing U.S. forces home. He added that, because the U.S. has not suffered a major deadly terrorist attack from Afghanistan since Sept. 11, 2001, the latest peace deal was “the best chance we have to ensuring it never does again, while safely bringing our troops home.”
The fight against ISIS has been a primary focus for the United States, Afghanistan, and the Taliban as well. Currently, there are an estimated 2,500 ISIS fighters left in Afghanistan. In the last quarter of 2019, there were an estimated 5,000.
U.S. Central Command chief Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie said in March that the Taliban was “very effective [at] compress and crush[ing]” ISIS in its Nangarhar stronghold.
“They’ve demonstrated a capability to [defeat ISIS]. It was a bloody mess, but they did it,” McKenzie told lawmakers on the House Armed Services Committee. “In fact, ISIS really now no longer holds ground in Nangahar province.”
U.S. officials finishing the fight against terrorism in the region has been a high priority of President Donald Trump, who campaigned on bringing troops home from what he described as an endless and costly war in the Middle East. Working with Afghan officials in securing the region has been a key element to his plan.