Washington, Kabul-The leader of ISIS’ branch in Afghanistan and Pakistan was reportedly killed in a U.S. drone strike on July 26, a Pentagon spokesman said after the Afghan ambassador to Pakistan made an official announcement of the news to Reuters.
The death of Hafiz Saeed Khan is a blow to ISIS’ expansionist efforts. The hard-line terror organization had its sight fixed on extending dominance from Syria and Iraq into Afghanistan and Pakistan, already crowded with extremist movements including the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
It is the second U.S. killing of a prominent militant in the region in months. In May, a U.S. drone killed Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour in a strike in Pakistan.
Despite the take down of notorious leaders, extremists such as Taliban fighters have been threatening at least two provincial capitals this summer, in Helmand and Kunduz, and a U.S. government report said Afghan forces have lost 5 percent of territory this year.
In terms of territory, ISIS has a limited presence to a handful of districts in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province, which borders Pakistan, where ISIS militants – mostly defectors from the Taliban – are blamed for raiding villages and government outposts.
Still, worries on ISIS expanding operational reach this week remained heightened, especially as the group had claimed responsibility for an attack on a Pakistani hospital that killed at least 74 people in the southwestern city of Quetta. A Pakistani Taliban faction also claimed responsibility.
A few weeks earlier, ISIS claimed an attack on a rally in Kabul that killed more than 80 people.
ISIS’ Khan has been reported dead before. But claims on his death were never confirmed.
On Friday, however, Afghan Ambassador Omar Zakhilwal told Reuters he had seen confirmation from Afghan security forces.
“I can confirm that ISIS Khurasan (Afghanistan and Pakistan) leader Hafiz Saeed Khan along with his senior commanders and fighters died in a U.S. drone strike on July 26 in Kot district of Afghanistan’s Nangharhar province,” he said.
Pentagon spokesman Gordon Trowbridge confirmed Khan’s death, and said in a statement that the airstrike took place during joint operations by U.S. and Afghan special operations forces against ISIS in the southern part of Nangarhar province. Trowbridge said the airstrike was in Achin district, as opposed to Kot district.
Khan – a longtime commander with the Pakistani Taliban – pledged allegiance in October 2014 to ISIS’ leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.