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Afghan security forces clashed with Islamic State (IS) fighters in eastern Afghanistan on Sunday after several government outposts came under attack, intensifying the conflict in a province that has become a flashpoint in the country's fight against the militant group.
The incident marks the first direct fighting between IS and Afghan security forces in the Achin district of eastern Nangarhar province, which borders Pakistan. According to the Afghan Interior Ministry, government forces killed at least 80 IS fighters, including many Pakistanis, and injured many more in response to the attacks on security force posts in Achin.
A senior official from the Interior Ministry told VICE News the government has launched an operation against IS forces in Nangarhar province.
Over a week ago, militants loyal to IS closed dozens of schools in the districts of Achin, Kot, and Dih Bala, leaving 30,000 children without access to education. Nangarhar residents have reportedly become fed up with IS in the province following multiple killings of innocent civilians.
Earlier this month, Achin governor Haji Ghalib Mujahid reportedly called for an uprising against IS. "Everyone who has a gun, a sword, anything, should fight these cruel people," he said, according to the Telegraph.
The Taliban has previously warned IS to back off in Afghanistan, and a turf war has been brewing between the two extremist groups.
"Jihad against the American invaders and its puppets should be carried out under a single flag, a single leadership, and a single order," read a letter signed in June by deputy Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour and addressed to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his followers.
According to a report issued Friday by the UN's al Qaeda monitoring group, IS has now recruited followers in 25 out of Afghanistan's 34 provinces. Foreign fighters, including around 70 militants from Iraq and Syria, are now said to be core members of IS in Afghanistan, the UN report said.