WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. is shifting combat and intelligence-gathering aircraft to Afghanistan as part of an intensified focus on the Taliban, now that the campaign against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria is winding down, the commander of coalition air forces in Afghanistan said Wednesday.

Air Force Maj. Gen. James Hecker told reporters at the Pentagon in a video teleconference from Kabul that on Feb. 1 the U.S. Central Command officially designated Afghanistan as its “main effort,” supplanting the counter-Islamic State campaign in Iraq and Syria. Central Command is responsible for all U.S. military operations in the broader Middle East as well as Central Asia.

Hecker emphasized the importance of increased support from U.S. intelligence agencies, whose analysis and expertise help the military identify targets to strike.

“This behind-the-scenes legwork allows us to hit the Taliban where it hurts most, whether it’s command-and-control … or their pocketbooks,” Hecker said.

He said the U.S. now has 50 percent more MQ-9 Reaper drones providing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance in Afghanistan, compared with last year.

He said the U.S. also has added A-10 attack planes and will be adding combat search-and-rescue aircraft.

Read full story »

NYT: Afghan Official: Chinese, Uzbek IS Militants Killed in Raid

KABUL, Afghanistan — A joint U.S. and Afghan air raid this week targeting the Islamic State group in Afghanistan killed 25 militants, including a Chinese and three Uzbek militants, a provincial police chief said Thursday.

The airstrikes, which took place in northern Jowzjan province, were part of a joint operation with the U.S.-led coalition, said the police chief, Faqir Mohammad Jowzjani.

Jowzjani said IS has become prominent in Darzab district, where the airstrikes took place, and also in Kush Tepa district of Jowzjan province.

IS emerged in Afghanistan in 2014, mostly from the ranks of disgruntled Taliban, and in the initial years restricted its activities to the country’s east, mostly Nangarhar province.

Read full story »

Key terrorist famous as the ‘long-haired Saddam’ arrested in Nangarhar

A key member of a terrorist group famous as long-haired Saddam has been arrested during an operation of the Afghan forces in eastern Nangarhar province of Afghanistan. The provincial government media office in a statement said the suspect was arrested by the operatives of the Afghan intelligence, National Directorate of Security (NDS), from Nazian district.

Read full story »

Uzbek nationals among 14 ISIS militants killed in Jawzjan airstrikes

At least fourteen militants affiliated with the Islamic State terror group were killed in the latest airstrikes conducted northern Jawzjan province of Afghanistan. The 209th Shaheen Corps of the Afghan Military in the North said at least two foreign nationals hailing from Uzbekistan were also among those killed. The Shaheen Corps further added that a

Read full story »

ISIS suffer casualties in US drone strike and Afghan forces operations

Militants affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terrorist group suffered casualties during the airstrikes and operations of the Afghan security forces in eastern Nangarhar province of Afghanistan. The 201st Silab Corps of the Afghan military in the East said the US forces carried out airstrikes using unmanned aerial vehicles in Dowa

Read full story »