The Afghan government announced that its security forces arrested the leader of the Islamic State in Afghanistan in an operation.

Abdullah Orakzai, also known as Aslam Farooqi, was captured by operators from Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS), the Afghani intelligence service and a rough equivalent of the CIA but with greater emphasis on domestic duties. The NDS didn’t say when the operation took place, only that it was in Kandahar Province; Farooqi was captured alongside several other terrorists.

Abdullah Orakzai, also known as Aslam Farooqi. (National Directorate of Security). 

The location of the operation is intriguing. Kandahar, which lies to the south, is a Taliban stronghold. ISIS-K’s bastion is in Nangarhar Province, although its status as an Islamic State have been much reduced following repeated counterterrorism operations.

Farooqi became the leader of the Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISIS-K), an offshoot of the Islamic State (ISIS) last year. ISIS-K has been targeted by both the U.S.-led Coalition, Afghan security forces, and the Taliban.

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The Human Rights Watch (HRW) stated that Farooqi’s capture is an opportunity to put ISIS on trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity. “Farooqi’s arrest is an opportunity for the Afghan authorities to show that they are capable of securing fair justice for victims of war crimes and other atrocities,” said Patricia Gossman, HRW’s Asia director and the former Director of the Afghanistan Program at the International Center for Transitional Justice on Afghanistan. “Victim participation is key to ensure that justice is not only done, but seen to be done, by those most affected by Farooqi’s crimes.”

ISIS-K was formed in 2015. Despite the setbacks of the past months, the United States Forces-Afghanistan (USFOR-Afghanistan) estimates that there are between 2000 and 2500 ISIS fighters left in the country.

During the past months, American and Coalition forces have dealt significant blows to the Islamic State. Last October, Delta Force operators took out Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, in a daring operation deep inside contested territory. By that point, the influence of al-Baghdadi had diminished alongside the terrorist group’s power, but his death was a major blow to ISIS’ propaganda and recruitment efforts.

ISIS might have lost almost all of its territory and sway in Iraq and Syria, but the group is still dangerous because of the hundreds, if not thousands, of stay-behind sleeper cells and captured fighters in the region. The ongoing fighting between Russia, Syria, and Turkey, plus their proxy forces, in the region is only making life easier for ISIS fighters. For example, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish-led militia that has been cooperating closely with the U.S. and Coalition forces, has been hard-put to defend itself from the aggressiveness of the Turkish military, which has invaded Northern Syria, and guard the thousands of ISIS fighters and their families who are detained in prison camps. As a result, the SDF has reported mass escapes from the camps.