Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS) claimed that the United States killed the Islamic State’s leader for its Khorasan province in an airstrike yesterday in eastern Afghanistan. If his death and the deputy emir’s death, which was reported earlier this week, are confirmed, the US has decapitated the top leadership of the Khorasan province.
The NDS said it killed Hafiz Saeed Khan, the emir of the Khorasan province, in an airstrike on July 10 in the Achin district of the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar.
“Based on NDS intelligence, HAFEZ SAYEED, The leader of Daesh (ISIS) in so called Khurassan state was killed in an air strike in Achin, NGR,” the NDS tweeted on its official Twitter feed.
The NDS said in a statement released on its Facebook page that Saeed was killed along with 30 Islamic State fighters.
The Islamic State has not released a statement confirming the death of Saeed, who was a mid-level commander in the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan for the Arakzai tribal agency before defecting to the Islamic State in 2014. [See LWJ report, Discord dissolves Pakistani Taliban coalition.]
Earlier this week, the NDS also claimed that the US killed Gul Zaman, the deputy emir of the Islamic State, and Shaykh Maqbool, the group’s spokesman who is better known as Shahidullah Shahid, in separate airstrikes in Achin district. Zaman’s lieutenant, Jahanyar, is also said to have been killed. The Islamic State has not commented on the reports of the deaths of Zaman, Shahid, or Jahanyar.
Press reports from Afghanistan indicate the US has been hammering the Islamic State in a series of airstrikes in Nangarhar over the past week. At least 155 Islamic State and Taliban fighters are said to have been killed in strikes in the districts of Achin, Bati Kot, and Dih Bala, although the death toll cannot be confirmed. Afghan officials often inflate the number of Islamic State and Taliban fighters killed in military operations.
The Islamic State has made inroads into Nangarhar province at the expense of the Taliban. Over the past six months, the group has battled with the Taliban for control over the province, and is said to have assassinated the Taliban’s shadow governor for Nangarhar. The Islamic State is said to have a strong presence in nine of Nangarhar’s 22 districts.
The infighting between the two jihadist groups led Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, the deputy leader of the Afghan Taliban, to issue an appeal to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the emir of the Islamic State, to end the discord and submit to the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,” or the Taliban. Mansour said that the infighting only benefits “the invading crusaders.” [See LWJ report, Taliban chastise Islamic State for dividing jihadist ranks in Afghanistan and beyond.]
Targeting Khorasan province’s leadership
The US began targeting the Khorasan province’s top leaders after the group was officially formed in January 2015. In March, the US killed Mullah Abdul Rauf Khadim, who was appointed the deputy governor of Khorasan province. Khadim was previously a senior leader in the Taliban and was a former detainee at Guantanamo Bay. The US military confirmed that it killed Khadim in an airstrike in the Kajaki district in Helmand. [See LWJ report, US military confirms it killed Islamic State, Shabaab leaders in airstrikes.]
Additionally, the Afghan military claimed it killed Hafiz Wahidi, the alleged replacement for Khadim, during an operation in Helmand province in mid-March. It is unclear if Wahidi, who Afghan officials said was a nephew of Khadim, replaced his uncle to serve as the deputy leader of Khorasan province. [See LWJ report, Islamic State in ‘Khorasan province’ commander killed in southern Afghanistan.]
The US policy of killing senior jihadist leaders in counterterrorism operations while abandoning counterinsurgency efforts to combat jihadist groups’ military and political strength has had questionable results at best. While the killing of top terrorist leaders has forced terrorist organizations to replace their leaders and adjust their security plans, the deaths have done little to stem the spread of jihadist groups and their control of territory in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Mali, and elsewhere.
For instance, the US decapitated the top leaders of the Islamic State of Iraq in 2010. The Islamic State of Iraq was al Qaeda’s branch in Iraq until it was ejected in 2014 and declared itself the Islamic State. The deaths of Abu Omar al Baghdadi, the Islamic State of Iraq’s emir, and Abu Ayyub al Masri, its military commander, may have set the group back, but only temporarily. The Islamic State of Iraq retained a significant military capability and had a deep bench of leaders, and seized on the weakness of the Iraqi government and the Syrian civil war to take over large swaths of both countries by June 2104.
Are you a dedicated reader of FDD's Long War Journal? Has our research benefitted you or your team over the years? Support our independent reporting and analysis today by considering a one-time or monthly donation. Thanks for reading! You can make a tax-deductible donation here.