July 13, 2015 | Quote

Suspected U.S. Drone Strikes Kill Key Islamic State Figures in Afghanistan

A key leader of the Islamic State and another top commander were killed in recent U.S drone strikes in eastern ­Afghanistan, according to intelligence officials here, the latest sign that the radical Islamist group is considered a growing threat in the country.

A strike in Nangahar province — which the U.S. military said occurred Tuesday — killed more than two dozen Islamic State militants, according to local media reports. They included ­Shahidullah Shahid, a former spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban who defected last year to help launch the Islamic State’s branch in Afghanistan. Shahid is thought to have been the group’s chief spokesman in the country.

Afghan intelligence officials said Islamic State commander Gull Zaman also was killed this week in a U.S. drone strike. But it was unclear whether he died in the same strike that targeted Shahid. A U.S. military spokesman in Kabul said several “precision strikes” were conducted against “individuals threatening” U.S. and Afghan forces in two districts of Nangahar on Monday and Tuesday.

The drone attacks suggest that the United States is becoming increasingly involved in thwarting the rise of the Islamic State — also known as ISIS, ISIL and Daesh — in Afghanistan. Tribal elders and provincial officials in Nangahar said a U.S. air campaign, conducted in conjunction with Afghan security forces­ and intelligence agents, has been underway in the province for two weeks. U.S. drones and fighter jets have been deployed regularly, officials said.

A powerful tribal elder in Bati Kot suggested that the U.S. strikes may have killed many Taliban fighters, as well.

“Based on the information that I have, American drones have attacked the Taliban and the Daesh fighters while they were fighting each other in Achin district,” said Zahir, the elder, who, like many Afghans, uses one name. “I can say huge numbers of Daesh and Taliban fighters have been killed because both group’s fighters were gathered in one area.”

According to the Long War Journal, a Web site that monitors conflicts, Zaman was the deputy leader of the Islamic State’s Khorasan chapter. Afghan intelligence officials identified Zaman as the group’s “military operations deputy.”


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