Afghan intelligence claims US killed Islamic State’s emir for Khorasan province

Hafiz-Saeed-Khan

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.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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9 Comments

  • jayc says:

    Apparently, someone is providing some very precise HUMINT and actionable intel. Only one group could be doing that, and I bet it is not the NDS (insert Taliban here.)

  • mike merlo says:

    I’m curious to know what the ‘Base Line’ is for these competing Islamist’s at the very least to Cease & Desist from targeting each other? The fact that these groups are in close/intimate geographical proximity to each other makes ‘it’ all the more intriguing. The fractious Mujahideen ‘Era’ that came to characterize & contour events in Afghanistan following the withdrawal of the USSR from Afghanistan looks to be reemerging.

    Had not the Taliban been the recipient’s of significant Pakistani largesse, manpower & Foreign Islamist’s/AQ they would have certainly remained just another Feudal Power in the Mujahideen miasma. Pakistani patronage/favoritism has yet to semi-openly emerge ‘blessing’ ISIS/ISIL along with the Haqqani Network still lurking in the shadows gauging ‘temperature’ & moods. I’m also guessing the Haqqani Network is awaiting something ‘solid’ from their principal benefactors, the Pakistani’s, before openly casting their lot if ever. I think the Pakistani’s will somehow fandango a way to quietly lend support/lip service to the ISIS/ISIL faction, if they already haven’t, while still ‘dancing’ with the Taliban. I also suspect the Pakistani’s will see this as an opportunity to increase Hekmatyars’ prestige & presence in some shape or form.

    “…that Saeed was killed along with 30 Islamic State fighters.” Glad to see that a number of Rank & File were also killed. That’s important. It should also be noted that ‘To Date’ there has been no ISIS/ISIL violence targeting the Pakistani State. At least none that I know of

  • JT says:

    Good news if confirmed. However, the US needs to put some sort of strategy and human intelligence efforts on the ground in place to go along with the air strikes on leaders. Else, the whack a mole makes little progress on stopping the spread of the [jihadist/terror/extremist] movement.

  • Frank Dunn says:

    Since Obama has been conducting secret talks with the Taliban, are the Taliban leaders providing Obama’s negotiators with target information on ISIS in exchange for a leading role in the Afghan government after our 2016 elections? Having the U.S. kill your competitors would make sense for the Taliban while betraying the Afghan government and the Afghan people would be SOP for Obama.

  • Doing the homework says:

    Two additional information, you might find interesting:
    – Twitter accounts affiliated with Wilayat Khorasan claim that Hafez Sayeed Khan is alive, they even put up a photo of him, whether it is a recent one can not be established though.
    – They claim that Qayum Zakir has pledged baya and has not recieved a reply yet.

  • Doing the homework says:

    Another two claims, should have really put it together:
    – Hizbe Islami – Gulbuddin Hikmatyar faction commanders from Kunar, Laghman, Nangarhar (areas with known HIG presence) pledged allegiance to Wilayat Khorasan. The most recent tweet even indicates that Gulbuddin himself did so.
    – Saeed Emarati is allegedly well, once again a photo is shown, but date is uncertain.

    If HIG and Qayum Zakir are on the side of Wilayat Khorasan, the skirmishes soon wont be only in Nangarhar in my opinion.

    • mike merlo says:

      @ Doing the homework

      good info on Hikmatyar/GIH. Definitely he/they are the ‘Wild Card’ in the ‘Deck’ along with the Haqqani Network. Seein how Hikmatyar has always been favorite of Pakistan’s ISI I wonder if this is quietly signaling the ISI is at least lending shadow recognition of ISIS/ISIL?

  • balls says:

    Probably not true, NDS is likely exaggerating / wrong:

    “The Islamic State (IS) on Sunday rejected reports that the group’s leader Hafiz Saeed Khan had been killed in US drone strike but confirmed killing of two others members, including Shahidullah Shahid and Gulzaman in missile strike by unmanned aircraft.

    Abdul Rahim Muslim Dost, central member of Daesh for Kurasan, in his telephonic interview with Pajhwok Afghan News rejected the killing of Hafiz Saeed Khan.”

    //www.pajhwok.com/en/2015/07/12/daesh-contradicts-reports-hafiz-saeed-khan-killing

  • Arjuna says:

    lt sure stinks when the enemy is more credible than your own allies… Here’s the target himself, post-strike, taunting the NDS via audio:

    //mobile.reuters.com/article/idUSKCN0PN04Y20150713?irpc=932

    We must deploy more assets on the ground, regardless of the risks, or we will simply never win this thing. Cease all negotiations with the Taliban, and kill them and their co-religionists from IS wherever they can be found.

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