ISLAMABAD - U.S. military officials have confirmed the death of four additional senior Islamic State leaders in a July 11 airstrike in northeastern Afghanistan that also killed the top leader of the terrorist group.
The drone attack struck IS headquarters in Kunar province, which borders Pakistan, and eliminated Abu Sayed, the amir of Islamic State’s self-styled Khorasan province branch, or ISK-P.
A U.S. military statement Sunday listed names and titles of the four slain terrorists identified as senior IS advisors, including Sheik Ziaullah, Mulawi Hubaib, Haji Shirullah, and Assadullah.
The U.S. military confirmed Sayed’s death at the time, but could not immediately provide details of other commanders killed by the missile strike.
Sayed was the third ISK-P chief the U.S. military has eliminated in the past year in its bid to prevent the group from establishing a foothold in Afghanistan.
"We will be relentless in our campaign against ISIS-K,” the statement quoted General John Nicholson, Commander of U.S. forces in the country. He used one of several IS names.
"There are no safe havens in Afghanistan. We will hunt them down until they are no longer a threat to the Afghan people and the region,” he added.
Observers acknowledge the death of Abu Sayed and other top leaders have dealt a considerable blow to the group’s Afghan operations.
U.S. airstrikes have primarily been responsible for killing about 20 founding and some of “second-generation” leaders of ISK-P since it launched extremist activities in the country two years ago, notes Kabul-based Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN).
“The ‘decapitation’ of ISK-P has been well underway over the past two years as the US military has stepped up its military campaign, mainly through air strikes, against the group in Nangarhar,” the non-governmental organization wrote in an article last week.
The eastern province of Nangarhar borders Kunar, and several of its districts are considered IS strongholds. Afghan security forces, backed by U.S. airpower, have been conducting major operations in the province to eliminate IS bases.
IS is also under attack from Afghanistan's Taliban insurgency and facing emerging internal differences, but there are no visible signs its appeal to some radicalized sectors is fading, AAN warns.
“ISKP has shown it is resilient. Recruits continue to pour in to Nangarhar from various provinces of Afghanistan as well as from Pakistan,” the watchdog noted, adding the group can be expected to put all its efforts into holding out against Afghan and U.S. forces to retain its strongholds in Nangarhar.