Afghanistan’s domestic intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security (NDS), has issued a statement claiming that the leader of the Islamic State (IS) terror group in Afghanistan and Pakistan was killed in a drone strike in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar on Friday. Hafiz Saeed – a former Pakistani Taliban commander who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in January – is believed to be among at least thirty other IS militants killed during the attack. Two IS commanders, formerly members of the Taliban, were present when the drone struck and have since confirmed Saeed’s death. A US military spokesperson in Afghanistan has also confirmed that a strike was carried out in Nangarhar but has declined to give any further details.
However, an audio recording of an individual believed to be Hafiz Saeed has since been posted on the Islamic State’s Arabic website. Speaking in the local Pashto language, the as-yet unidentified individual talks about the Islamic State’s desire to implement sharia law in Afghanistan. He also comments on the recent battles between IS militants and members of the Taliban in Nangarhar and the Pakistani security service’s influence over certain members of the latter group. While the authenticity of the audio recording has not been independently verified, it does cast doubt over whether or not Saeed was in fact killed during the Nangarhar drone strike. While this is not the first time that Saeed has been reported killed, his death could represent a major blow to the Islamic State’s ambitions in Khorasan, a geopolitical entity that encompasses both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
While Saeed is the most high profile IS commander to have been targeted recently he is by no means the only one. Earlier in the week, two senior Pakistani militants were also killed in a drone strike in Nangarhar. Security officials reporting on the incident have confirmed that one of the men, Gul Zaman, was Saeed’s deputy in Afghanistan, while the other, Shahidullah Shahid, was the Pakistani Taliban’s principal spokesperson until he defected to join the IS last year. Both men were killed in a US drone strike on a leadership council meeting of the Islamic State in Khorasan. A spokesperson for the Afghan NDS confirmed the strike in a public statement. However, the death toll remains unclear with reports ranging from 24 to 45 fatalities.