In Tangled Afghan War, a Thin Line of Defense Against ISIS

KHOGYANI, Afghanistan — When the American military dropped the largest bomb in its arsenal on an Islamic State cave complex here in eastern Afghanistan in April, the generals justified it as part of a robust campaign to destroy the group’s local affiliate by year’s end.

Its force had been reduced to 700 fighters from 3,000, they said, and its area of operation diminished to three districts from 11.

But as the year comes to a close, the Islamic State is far from being vanquished in eastern Afghanistan, even as the group is on the run in its core territory in Iraq and Syria. It has waged brutal attacks that have displaced thousands of families and forced even some Taliban fighters, who had long controlled the mountainous terrain, to seek government protection.

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