KABUL (Reuters) - The Afghan intelligence agency on Thursday said a third top Islamic State commander in Afghanistan was killed in a U.S. drone strike in the country’s East this week.
Shahidullah Shahid, a former member of the Pakistani Taliban who defected to the Islamic State and was operating in Afghanistan, was killed along with five militants on Tuesday, an official said.
“He wanted to expand IS operation in the country and with his death, it will have an impact on their activities,” Hasib Sediqi, spokesman for the Afghanistan National Directorate of Security (NDS), told Reuters.
Shahid was killed in the same strike that killed Islamic State number two in Afghanistan Gul Zaman, along with 49 militants in the eastern Achin district of Nangarhar province where Islamic State militants have recently gained ground after pushing out the Taliban. One other commander was also killed.
A foreign official, who asked not to be named in order to be able to speak freely, has said the number of dead was believed to be closer to 25.
The Pentagon has confirmed several strikes in the Achin district of Nangarhar Province in the past week, with one precision strike on Tuesday, and two others on Monday.
“All of these strikes were conducted against individuals threatening U.S. and coalition forces,” said Captain Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, without disclosing the identities of targets or the number of suspected dead.
Bordering lawless areas inside Pakistan, Nangarhar is one of the provinces where Islamic State militants are most active.
Islamic State loyalists, mostly former Taliban disillusioned by the movement’s unsuccessful bid to return to power in Kabul, are often accompanied by dozens of foreign foreigners, hoisting black flags in several districts in the province.
A small but increasing number of mostly ex-Taliban militants are pledging allegiance to the Islamic State in Afghanistan, making them a target of deadly strikes there by the U.S. unmanned aircraft.
Reporting by Jessica Donati and Hamid Shalizi, additional reporting by Phil Stewart in Washington Editing by Nick Macfie and Cynthia Osterman