Officials in eastern Afghanistan say a U.S. drone strike Thursday killed Islamic State’s top commander in the area, which the militants call Khorasan, along with at least 11 other insurgents.
The missile attack by the unmanned aircraft occurred in Achin, a volatile district in a remote part of Nangarhar province, where IS is believed to have set up its headquarters.
U.S. military officials in Kabul confirmed an airstrike was launched in that area Thursday, but said they were unable to determine whether Islamic State's local commander, Hafiz Saeed Khan, was among the casualties.
A spokesman (Attaullah Khogyani) for the Nangarhar province governor told VOA it was officially determined that Hafiz Saeed Khan, the IS emir for Khorasan, and his fighters were hit by the missile, which caused a massive explosion in Achin's Bandar locality when it hit at about 4 p.m., local time, villagers told reporters.
The pace of missile attacks by U.S. drones has increased recently, and scores of militants at IS bases in Nangarhar are reported to have been killed.
The Islamic State group did not have any immediate comment about Thursday's drone strike. Khan, a former Taliban commander who switched sides to join the Islamic State more than a year ago, was said to have been killed six months ago, but the terror group denied that report at the time.
According to a map the Islamic State issued early last year, Khorasan consists of areas of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran.
In Washington, the U.S. government announced Thursday that Islamic State - Khorasan is now formally listed as a foreign terrorist organization. It said Islamic State's regional operatives are primarily former members of the Afghan Taliban and the Tehrik-e-Taliban group in Pakistan Pakistan.
Islamic State - Khorasan, which is about one year old, said its first major attack in Afghanistan, on Wednesday, targeted Pakistan’s consulate in Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar.
The Islamists said three of their members, including a suicide bomber, took part in the raid, and they claimed seven Afghan security personnel were killed and 10 others were wounded. Pakistani officials said none of the consulate staff was injured.
Hours after the incident in Jalalabad on Wednesday, the Afghan air force said it attacked a suspected IS base in the Kot district, killing around a dozen extremists.
Khan was one of five mid-ranking commanders from the outlawed Pakistani Taliban to defect and join the Islamic State in 2014. He commanded Taliban fighters in Pakistan’s semi-autonomous Orakzai tribal district and was appointed Islamic State's emir for Khorasan in January 2015.