The leader of Islamic State’s branch in Afghanistan and Pakistan was killed in a U.S. drone strike on July 26, a Pentagon spokesman said on Friday after the Afghan ambassador to Pakistan announced the news to Reuters.
The death of Hafiz Saeed Khan is a blow to efforts by Islamic State – also known as ISIS or Daesh – to expand from its heartlands in Syria and Iraq into Afghanistan and Pakistan, already crowded with jihadist 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 that, Afghanistan’s 15-year-old war grinds on with no clear victory in sight. 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 its own territory, Islamic State has been largely confined to a handful of districts in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province, which borders Pakistan, where IS militants – mostly defectors from the Taliban – are blamed for raiding villages and government outposts.
Still, worries that Islamic State might be expanding its operational reach heightened this week when the group took credit 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, Islamic State claimed an attack on a rally in Kabul that killed more than 80 people. (Courtesy Reuters)