A spokesman for the Afghan ministry of interior (MoI), after two U.S. drone strikes killed an estimated 49 terrorists linked to the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) in Afghanistan, recognized that the jihadist group poses a major threat to his country.
The drone strikes took place in the Achin district of eastern Nangarhar province, located along the country’s border with Pakistan.
“This is the first and bloodiest drone strike on Daesh fighters in the area which has killed quite a big number of militants,” Ahmad Zia Abdulzai, a provincial government spokesman, told Anadolu Agency, reports Al Bawaba News.
The National Directorate of Security (NDS), Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, using an Arabic acronym for ISIS (Daesh), said Gull Zaman, ISIS’s number 2 in Afghanistan, was among the 49 jihadists killed by the strikes.
Haseeb Sediqi, a spokesman for NDS, told TOLOnews that ISIS’s deputy commander and head of military operations in Afghanistan, Zaman, “was killed along with his deputy Jahanyar and five others.”
Sediq Seddiqi, the MoI spokesman, “told a press conference that the fast-emerging Daesh group was a major threat to the security of the country, region and the world,” reports Pajhwok Afghan News.
According to Seddiqi, the recent drone strikes in Nangarhar were carried out in coordination with Afghan forces.
“Foreign forces have intensified their drone campaign against militants in eastern provinces of Afghanistan,” notes Afghanistan Times.
The ministry of interior spokesman termed the drone strikes as effective in the war against jihadists in Afghanistan.
“Such strikes sabotage gathering of enemy and air assault caused more damage to the enemy. Until our own air force gets these qualities we need foreign troops’ air support,” he said.
The Nangarhar government spokesman, Abdulzai, said the first strike by the U.S. unmanned aircraft on Monday took place around 12:00 pm local time, killing at least 12 ISIS-affiliated terrorists.
He added that at least 37 other ISIS-linked jihadists were killed in a second drone strike in the same area about two hours later.
Abdulzai noted that the ISIS affiliates were planning to launch an offensive in neighboring areas against rival Taliban terrorists.
“There have been a string of violent clashes between the two groups, especially in Nangarhar province where self-styled Daesh fighters have managed to push the Taliban out of the Achin and Nazian districts in recent months,” reports Al Bawaba.
Reuters, quoting an anonymous foreign official, reports that the number of jihadists executed by Monday’s strikes is closer to 25.
Meanwhile, Afghanistan Times points out that Taliban terrorists were also targeted by the drone strikes, noting that at least 60 terrorists from both groups were killed by the strikes. The article does not break down the fatalities by jihadist organization.
In January, ISIS announced that it had established a province in Khorasan, an ancient name for a region that covers Afghanistan, Pakistan, parts of India, and other surrounding countries, reportedly prompting an increasing number of militants in Afghanistan to pledge allegiance to ISIS.
Terrorists who have pledged loyalty to ISIS have seized parts of five districts in Nangarhar and established contact with the group’s leadership in Syria, reports Al Bawaba, citing an unnamed Afghan official.
“The group’s fighters are thought to be former Taliban fighters who have rebranded themselves following the territorial victories won by Daesh in Iraq and Syria in the past year,” the report mentions.
Other militants in Afghanistan have begun to show support for ISIS.
“A statement was released by Hezb-e-Islami and urged the group’s followers to support the ISIS affiliates in the event tensions further escalated between the Taliban militants and affiliates of the ISIS group who were former members of the Taliban group,” reports Khaama Press.
Members of Hezb-e-Islami, an Islamist group led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, are sworn enemies of the Taliban.
In the July 5 statement, Hekmatyar advised his followers to “help” terrorists “who have quit the Taliban and declared allegiance to the Islamic State” in their fight against current Taliban members, which he identified as “sworn enemies of Hezb-e Islami.”
Hezb-e-Islami is considered the second largest insurgent group in Afghanistan after the Taliban. The group’s leader has been labeled a “specially designated global terrorist” by the U.S. State Department.
The U.S. National Counter Terrorism Center (NCTC) describes the group as “a political and paramilitary organization” that is “virulently anti-Western” and “has carried out attacks on Afghan and Coalition forces, primarily in the eastern Kunar and Nuristan Provinces.”