- The Washington Times - Friday, August 12, 2016

The reputed head of Islamic State’s Afghanistan branch, Hafiz Saeed, was killed by an American airstrike in eastern Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province near the Pakistan border, Pentagon officials confirmed Friday.

Saeed, who is the purported leader of the group’s Afghan and Pakistan faction — known as Islamic State of Khorasan — was traveling through the Kot district of Nangarhar when a U.S. drone killed him.

The strike was part of a joint U.S.-Afghan special operations mission in Nangarhar, according to a Defense Department statement. The area, according to the Pentagon, has been a “hotbed” of activity for Islamic State, or ISIS or ISIL, in Afghanistan.

Saeed’s death will “affect [ISIS] recruiting efforts and will disrupt…operations in Afghanistan and the region,” Defense Department spokesman Gordon Trowbridge said in the statement.

Afghan Ambassador to Pakistan Omar Zakhilwal initially confirmed Saeed’s death in an interview with Reuters on Friday.

Saeed is the third top-tier Islamic State leader to have been killed in eastern Afghanistan since U.S. and Afghan forces began targeting the group’s commanders last summer.

In February, an American drone strike killed Mullah Abdul Rauf, the Islamic State’s chief in southern Afghanistan. Two other senior Islamic State commanders Shahidullah Shahid and Gul Zaman, were killed months later in a U.S. drone strike.

Saeed and Shahid had both been top commanders with the Pakistani Taliban before shifting allegiances to the militant group based in Syria and Iraq.

Washington and Kabul are touting Saeed’s death as a major blow to ISIS’s Afghan organization, but it is not the first time American and allied forces believed they had killed the infamous terror commander.

Afghan intelligence and American military officials had previously believed Saeed was one of 30 Islamic State insurgents killed in a July 2015 U.S. airstrike in Achin district in Nangarhar.

The Islamic State has used the volatile eastern Afghanistan province as their unofficial base of operations in the country, battling Taliban factions based along the Afghan-Pakistan border for control of the region.

ISIS commanders have routinely used Nangarhar uses “to train, equip, disseminate and control fighter pipelines, providing [ISIS] commanders throughout Afghanistan with a continuous supply of enemy fighters from this province,” according to the Pentagon.

However, recent reports claim that senior leaders from both terror organizations made somewhat of a peace pact earlier this month, opting to focus their efforts on battling back against increased U.S. military operations in the southern and eastern portions of the country.

White House officials in June gave administration’s tacit approval to allow U.S. commanders in Afghanistan to conduct offensive airstrikes against the Taliban, the Islamic State and other insurgent groups and to let American troops restart joint ground operations with Afghan forces.

The changes were based on the findings of a three-month review of the situation in Afghanistan, which was overseen by Gen. John Nicholson, the top U.S. commander there, and submitted to Pentagon and White House officials this month.

Before the changes made at Gen. Nicholson’s behest, American air power was authorized only when U.S. forces were under direct threat and American combat missions in the country were limited to special operations teams.

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