Of­fi­cials: Is­lamic State leader killed

The Washington Post Sunday - - THE WORLD - BY SU­DARSAN RAGHA­VAN AND SAYED SALAHUD­DIN su­darsan.ragha­van@wash­post.com Tim Craig in Is­lam­abad, Haq Nawaz Khan in Peshawar and Dan Lamothe in Washington con­trib­uted to this re­port.

The top Is­lamic State leader in Afghanistan and Pak­istan has been killed in a sus­pected U.S. drone strike in eastern Afghanistan, the latest in a string of U.S. air as­saults against mil­i­tants in re­cent days, Afghan in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials said Satur­day.

This is not the first time Hafiz Saeed Khan— a for­mer Pak­istani Tal­iban com­man­der who pledged al­le­giance to the Is­lamic State in Jan­uary — has been re­ported killed. If ver­i­fied, his death could rep­re­sent a ma­jor blow to the rad­i­cal Syria- and Iraq-based Is­lamists’ am­bi­tions of es­tab­lish­ing a strong pres­ence in Afghanistan and Pak­istan, an area they call Kho­rasan.

Khan, who is from the Orakzai tribe in Pak­istan, was killed Fri­day in the Achin dis­trict of Nan­ga­har province, said Asib Sediqqi, a spokesman for the Na­tional Di­rec­torate of Se­cu­rity, Afghanistan’s in­tel­li­gence agency.

“Hafiz Saeed was killed in a gath­er­ing in an area where they were mak­ing plans,” Sediqqi said, adding that the agency’s op­er­a­tives pro­vided U.S. com­man­ders with the in­tel­li­gence to launch the airstrike.

The corpse was re­trieved and iden­ti­fied as Khan be­fore Afghan of­fi­cials re­ported his death, Sediqqi said. At least 30 other in­sur­gents were killed in the airstrike, he added.

Two other se­nior Is­lamic State lead­ers were also killed in the past week in Nan­ga­har by U.S. airstrikes, ac­cord­ing to Afghan in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials: Shahidul­lah Shahid, who is thought to have been the group’s chief spokesman in Afghanistan, and Gull Za­man, thought to be the deputy head of the Is­lamic State’s Kho­rasan branch.

The Is­lamic State has not con­firmed any of the deaths.

The U.S. mil­i­tary in Afghanistan con­firmed that it had con­ducted an airstrike Fri­day in the Achin dis­trict. Army Col. Brian Tribus, a spokesman for U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, said the strike tar­geted “in­di­vid­u­als threat­en­ing the force.”

Tribus did not con­firm whether Khan died in the at­tack.

On so­cial media Satur­day, there were con­flict­ing re­ports of Khan’s fate. Abu Ta­lut alKho­rasani, who de­scribed him­self as a for­mer Tal­iban com­man­der who de­fected to the Is­lamic State, said in a tweet that Khan “is alive and well” and branded the Afghan in­tel­li­gence agency’s claims as pro­pa­ganda. But the agency’s chief, Rahmatullah Na­bil, also took to Twit­ter and in­sisted that Khan had been killed.

For the past two weeks, a joint U. S.- Afghan mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion has been un­fold­ing in Nan­ga­har, where the Is­lamic State has made the deep­est in­roads, ac­cord­ing to Afghan of­fi­cials. Pro­vin­cial of­fi­cials and tribal el­ders re­port nu­mer­ous drone strikes in Achin and other dis­tricts, un­der­scor­ing the grow­ing Amer­i­can con­cern about the rise of the Is­lamic State at a time when most U. S. and in­ter­na­tional forces have left the coun­try.

Since Jan­uary, when the Is­lamic State an­nounced the cre­ation of its Kho­rasan wing, nu­mer­ous Tal­iban mem­bers have de­fected. In sev­eral dis­tricts, the Tal­iban is now en­gaged in clashes with the Is­lamic State, which has seized a num­ber of ar­eas.

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