An Afghan security force member stands on a military vehicle during a military operation against Islamic State (IS) militants in Tora Bora, Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, June 16, 2017. The fall of Tora Bora to the IS insurgents, according to local observers, would prove a major blow to the Taliban militants and similarly a potential threat to the government forces in the eastern provinces. (Xinhua/Rahman Safi)
JALALABAD, Afghanistan, June 17 (Xinhua) -- Militants loyal to the hardliner Islamic State (IS) group have replaced Taliban fighters in many places of Afghanistan's eastern Nangarhar province and overrun the outfit's main bastion Tora Bora hilltops recently.
The IS group surfaced in Achin district of the relatively troublesome province two years ago, and survived government forces' mounting pressures.
Following a fierce fighting, the IS group captured the strategically important Tora Bora mountain on Wednesday, forcing Taliban fighters to retreat from the area.
Tora Bora had served as the main base of al-Qaida network and the hideout of its ex-leader Osama Bin Laden until the collapse of Taliban regime in late 2001. Taliban captured the region after regrouping of its militants a couple of years ago.
The fall of Tora Bora to the IS insurgents, according to local observers, would prove a major blow to the Taliban militants and similarly a potential threat to the government forces in the eastern provinces.
"The fall of Tora Bora to the so-called Islamic State would place the armed group in commanding position and if the government forces fail to evict IS rebels in its earliest, the rebel group would threaten the key city in the eastern region Jalalabad and the neighboring Laghman and Kunar provinces," local analyst Saiful Rahman told Xinhua on Saturday.
Many Taliban commanders, according to the observer, have changed their loyalty and joined the IS rank to help the group expand its territory.
Some 2,000 families have left their houses since eruption of fighting between IS and Taliban militants in Tora Bora and its vicinities over the past week, locals said, warning that government forces' delay in recapturing Tora Bora would force more families to flee their houses.
Since its emergence in Achin district in early 2014, the IS militants have expanded its presence in the neighboring Kot, Haska Mina, Nazian, Shinwar and Pachir Hagam districts, according to locals.
Challenging government forces and placing stiff resistance against the U.S.-backed Afghan forces military crackdowns, IS insurgents have been fighting to expand their foothold in spite of suffering on the battle ground.
"The policy of negligence by the government has helped IS group rapidly expand its influence in the eastern Nangarhar province over the past two years," member of Nangarhar Provincial Council Ajmal Omar told media on Saturday.
He also described IS as a potential threat to security and warned that overlooking the threat would enable the group to grab more lands in the conflict-riddled country.
Taliban militants, according to locals, have adopted the policy of "wait and see" allowing the government to take the war on the IS fighters in Tora Bora.
However, spokesman for Defense Ministry, General Dawlat Waziri has downplayed the threat, saying that the government forces would soon recapture Tora Bora hilltops from the IS rebels to restore law and order there.
Meanwhile, Bahrami, a spokesman for Defense Ministry told reporters on Saturday that 23 IS fighters had been killed over the past 72 hours and the troops would soon regain the control of Tora Bora.