US drone strikes target Lashkar-e-Islam fighters in eastern Afghanistan
The US killed several fighters from the Lashkar-e-Islam, a Taliban-linked group that operates in Afghanistan and Pakistan, in three airstrikes in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar today.
The airstrikes, which are said to have been carried out by the remotely piloted Predators or Reapers, hit three separate locations in Nangarhar's Nazyan district, the Express Tribune reported.
The strikes targeted "Pakistan's banned Lashkar-e-Islam militant group, Afghan Taliban as well as smugglers," according to the Express Tribune. One of the strikes may have targeted a jirga, or meeting, between the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistani Taliban. The two groups have clashed recently over local disputes.
Upwards of 10 "militants" were killed and 14 more were wounded, the political agent for Khyber told RFE/RL. The Khyber political agent also said that the district where the strikes took place "has become a sanctuary for fighters from the Pakistani Taliban and the Lashkar-e Islam group."
There has been some confusion over whether the strikes took place in Afghanistan or Pakistan. US drone strikes have not been launched at targets inside Pakistan since Dec. 26, 2013.
The Nazyan district district is just miles from the border of Pakistan's tribal agency of Khyber, which led some news outlets to report that the strikes took place inside Pakistan.
A similar discrepancy over the location of a drone strike arose late last year. A Dec. 13, 2013 airstrike targeted a boat that was transporting al Qaeda and Taliban operatives on the Kabul River. The strike technically occurred in Nangarhar's Lal Pur district, and not in Pakistan. Two al Qaeda operatives, three members of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, and two members of the Afghan Taliban were killed in the attack.
The US moratorium on strikes in Pakistan is a "political decision and not based on the lack of targets in Pakistan's tribal areas," a US official told The Long War Journal a couple of months ago. The US agreed to suspend strikes as the Pakistani government has negotiated with the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan.
The Lashkar-e-Islam, which allies with the Taliban, has established its own Taliban-like government in large areas of the Khyber tribal agency, including Bara, Jamrud, and the Tirah Valley. The group provides recruits to battle US and Afghan forces across the border, and has attacked NATO's vital supply line which moves through Khyber. The Pakistani military has targeted the Lashkar-e-Islam during multiple operations since 2008, but has failed to dislodge the group from power.
The International Security Assistance Force admitted that the Lashkar-e-Islam operates in Afghanistan when it announced in 2010 that it captured a Taliban commander who led members of the group.