Afghanistan has taken a new step towards a peaceful resolution to its long-running war with the Taliban, after announcing that the al-Qaeda-linked Haqqani network was “captured” on Tuesday.
The Taliban said in a statement that the Haqqanis were “sitting in their hideout” in eastern Helmand province and that they had been “capture and killed” by the Afghan army.
“It’s a result of the US-led coalition’s airstrikes that has resulted in the capture of a number of terrorists who are sitting in their hiding place,” a Taliban spokesman said in the statement.
“The US coalition did not target the Haqnanis.”
The Haqqans, who were active in the 1990s, are an al Qaeda affiliate fighting the government of President Ashraf Ghani.
The Haqnas, who are affiliated to al-Qa’ida, have also been responsible for attacks on coalition forces in Pakistan, including the 2014 bombing of a NATO base in Kabul.
Afghanistan’s security forces have been engaged in a military campaign against the Haqaqis for years.
But in the past two years, US troops have conducted more than 1,000 air strikes, according to the US Central Command.
The United States has been conducting more than 2,000 such strikes in Afghanistan over the past three years.
“Today we are proud to announce the liberation of the Haqs in Helmand Province,” the statement said.
“After a long fight, we have achieved our objectives.”
In the past few days, the Haqueanis have also announced they were withdrawing from Helmand, which is home to the main Haqqanian base, in a move that the Taliban described as “a sign of defeat”.
“The liberation of our hideout and its retreat from the [Afghan] capital is a sign of failure and humiliation for our forces,” the Haquanis said in an online statement.
The announcement comes a day after the US said it had “killed or wounded more than 40 Taliban militants” in its air strikes in the province.
In October, the Taliban said they had captured a number “in and around [Afghani] Nangarhar Province”.
“In the name of Allah, the most merciful, we announce that the defeat of the Afghan forces has been achieved,” the group said in its statement.
In September, a senior Taliban commander said that the militants would not be able to hold the capital “for long” after the fall of the Taliban.
The group has been struggling to win hearts and minds among its people in Heland, which it considers the cradle of its radical movement.
The insurgents have fought to establish an Islamic state in Afghanistan, and they have claimed responsibility for attacks against western embassies and Nato bases in Afghanistan.
US troops began withdrawing from Afghanistan’s Helmand and Helmand-based provinces in late 2014, and by the end of 2015, US-backed Afghan forces had been pushed out of most of the country.
In March, US President Donald Trump signed a bill allowing the withdrawal of all US troops from Afghanistan.
But the withdrawal was delayed after US Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis told Congress that the United States would need more troops to fight the Taliban and that the Afghan military had “decided to move towards a more secure, stable, and sustainable governance”.
Afghan forces have since begun a more assertive campaign to retake territory from the Taliban in the country’s east.
A senior US official told the Associated Press news agency that there were about 6,000 American troops in Afghanistan at the end, with a further 2,200 serving as advisers and trainers.