Pentagon Spins Taliban Defeat of ISIS As Its Own Victory

US military continues to spin a Taliban victory against Islamic State as its own

In the Department of Defense’s latest quarterly report on Afghanistan, the US military claimed the Taliban’s victory against the Islamic State Khorasan Province in Jawzjan over the summer as its own. The US military’s claim highlights just how desperate it is to report success in Afghanistan, and how infrequent those successes are in reality.

At the end of July 2018, the Taliban massed its forces and targeted a large cadre of Islamic State fighters that were based in Darzab district in Jawzjan. The Taliban operation was decisive; the Islamic State was routed. More than 150 of the 600 Islamic State operatives based in the district were killed and an estimated 100 more were wounded. Another 134 were captured by the Taliban. [See FDD’s Long War Journal report, Taliban says Islamic State has been ‘completely defeated’ in Jawzjan.]

Following the drubbing by the Taliban, more than 250 Islamic State fighters and a handful of leaders, including the group’s military commander for the north, surrendered to the Afghan government to prevent being captured by the Taliban.

At the time, both the US military and Afghan government spun the surrender as a successful operation. General John Nicholson, then the commander of US Forces – Afghanistan and Resolute Support, touted the Taliban’s dominance over the Islamic State Khorasan Province as evidence that the security situation Afghanistan is improving.

“I want to highlight a recent success since we last talked, when over 250 ISIS-K fighters and their family members surrendered to the Afghan security forces in Jowzjan, which eliminated one of the three pockets of ISIS in Afghanistan,” Nicholson said at a press briefing in August.

Fast forward to Oct. 31 and the Special Investigator General for Afghan Reconstruction’s {SIGAR} release of the latest quarterly report on Afghanistan. Nicholson’s appropriation of the Taliban’s victory in Jawzjan as a success for the US and the Afghan government is repeated in the report. And it is at the top of the list of so-called counterterrorism successes over the quarter.

“However, counterterror efforts against Islamic State’s affiliate in Afghanistan, Islamic State Khorasan (IS-K) scored some successes this quarter. In early August, 250 IS-K militants surrendered to Afghan security forces in Jowzjan Province, a development that General Nicholson described as ‘eliminat[ing] one of the three pockets of ISIS in Afghanistan,’” the SIGAR report noted.

Again, the surrender of the Islamic State cadre in Jawzjan was not the result of a successful counterterrorism operation, but the result of a Taliban victory. Additionally, the Afghan government’s treatment of the Islamic State fighters who surrendered has enraged many Afghans, including members of the military. The Islamic State fighters were evacuated using helicopters, while Afghan soldiers, who during the same timeframe were besieged by the Taliban at bases in the north, could not receive critical resupply. Government officials spoke of amnesty for fighters who brutally murdered, raped, and enslaved civilians in Jawzjan.

In fact, the Jawzjan incident highlights just how weak and ineffective the Afghan security forces actually are in the Afghan north. The Taliban did what the Afghan government and military could not do: mass its forces and conduct a decisive military operation against a nest of Islamic State fighters.

The US military’s repeated attempts to spin the Taliban’s victory in Jawzjan as its own only serves to demonstrate just how eager it is to manufacture successes in Afghanistan when they are few and far between.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.