NANGARHAR, AFGHANISTAN/WASHINGTON - A suspected U.S. drone strike has reportedly killed four key Islamic State commanders in eastern Afghanistan, a provincial security official in Nangarhar said.
The drone strike late Tuesday — which has not been immediately confirmed by the Pentagon — targeted a gathering of IS militants in eastern Kunar province, killing 11 fighters, including four commanders.
“The drone strike targeted IS militants in the Gambir region,” provincial police chief, Juma Gul Hemmat told VOA’s Afghan service. “Four IS commanders along with seven of their fighters were killed in the strike.”
The slain commanders also include Mohammad Rahman who was in charge of the terror group’s financial affairs and Noora, known by his first name, who had the responsibility of recruiting new fighters in the province.
A brother of Rahman was also killed in the strike, according to police chief Hemmat.
Based in southern parts of eastern Nangarhar province, IS's self-styled Khorasan province branch emerged in early 2015 in the mountainous areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The terror group is active in several districts of eastern Nangarhar province.
IS in Afghanistan has been able to draw its members from the Pakistani Taliban fighters, some former Afghan Taliban, and other militants who “believe that associating with or pledging allegiance” to IS will further their interests, according to an annual Pentagon report submitted to U.S. Congress .
Extending its reach
The group has recently expanded its presence and activities to neighboring Kunar province as well.
According to police chief, Hemmat, up to 2,000 IS fighters are active in several districts of Kunar province.
He told VOA that the terror group has established a training base in the Patash valley, where foreign fighters, including Arabs and Pakistanis provide training to new recruits.
Attaullah Khogyani, Nangarhar provincial government spokesperson told VOA that as IS is losing ground in Nangarhar, it is trying to expand to neighboring mountainous Kunar and Nuristan provinces, which share a border with Pakistan to establish a persistent presence there.
U.S. and Afghan forces have been engaged in joint- counterterrorism operations against IS in eastern Afghanistan. Earlier this year, American military, in partnership with Afghan security forces, promised to eliminate IS in Afghanistan this year. Hundreds of IS fighters, including several senior commanders, have been killed in recent months.
In May of this year, Sheikh Abdul Hasib, the terror group’s leader in Afghanistan was killed in a joint U.S. Afghan forces raid in Nangarhar.
In April, the U.S. Air Force dropped a Massive Ordinance Air Bomb (MOAB), informally known as “the mother of all bombs,” on an IS stronghold in Achin district of Nangarhar, killing at least 95 IS fighters, mostly foreign nationals.