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U.S. Secretary Of State Arrives In Kabul On Unannounced Visit

09 Jul 2018 Gandhara - RFE/RL

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has arrived in Kabul on an unannounced visit, an Afghan government official has told RFE/RL on condition of anonymity.

The July 9 visit is Pompeo's first since becoming the top U.S. diplomat.

Pompeo is expected to meet with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and will conduct a joint press conference later in the day.

Around 14,000 U.S. troops are currently stationed in Afghanistan as part of the NATO-led mission, while also carrying out counterterrorism operations targeting Islamic State (IS) militants and Al-Qaeda.

Pompeo's visit coincides with what could be a final operation to clear fighters from the IS group and other insurgents in a remote district in the eastern Nangarhar Province.

U.S.-backed Afghan special forces have conducted what could be a final operation to clear IS fighters and other insurgents from a remote district in the eastern Nangarhar Province, officials say.

Lieutenant Colonel Josh Thiel of the U.S. First Special Forces Group on July 8 said the latest operation has been centered on the area around Deh Bala, next to the Achin district and near where the U.S. military dropped its largest nonnuclear bomb in 2017.

"This was one of the main green zones that did two things. One, it provided money, finance, logistics to ISIS and we've taken that away from them," Thiel said, using an alternate name for the IS group.

"Additionally, ISIS was using this as a site to prepare and move high-profile attacks on Kabul and Jalalabad," he said, adding that recent activities have included final mine-clearance operations.

The Nangarhar provincial government said a U.S. air strike was carried out late on July 8 in Achin district near the Pakistan border, killing at least four militants loyal to Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) group.

The ISKP militants moved into Nangarhar four years ago and have been blamed for brutality on civilians, including the use of executions by beheading or explosion.

Insurgents had been using the area to raise funds through illegal logging and talc mining, as well as exploiting local villagers.

The overall assault, which began at the end of April, involved three companies of Afghan commandoes supported by U.S. air strikes and U.S. Special Forces.

Troops were ferried in by helicopter, and an operations base was set up near the village of Gargari, near where IS fighters were trying to establish a stronghold.

Heavy fighting ended in early June after 167 Islamic State militants were killed and large quantities of equipment captured, officials said.

The NATO-led Resolute Support operation has backed the government in Kabul in its fight against IS, Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and other militants, mainly by training and advising Afghan security forces.

The Afghan Defense Ministry on July 8 said its security forces had doubled their offensive operations against insurgents since the end of the government's unilateral cease-fire directed toward the Taliban.

Ghani declared an end to the truce, but he also called on the Taliban to resume peace negotiations. IS was not part of the cease-fire.

The cease-fire lasted 18 days in all, after it was extended once and coincided with a three-day Taliban truce.

Along with Nangarhar, Afghan forces say they are focusing their fight against insurgents in Kunar, Farah, Helmand, Kunduz, Faryab, Uruzgan, and Ghazni provinces.

With reporting by dpa, Reuters, Tolo News, and Khaama Press

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