FILE - Smokes rises after а U.S. airstrike hits the site o
FILE - Smokes rises after а U.S. airstrike hits the site o

WASHINGTON - The United States is reporting more progress in its efforts to eradicate the Islamic State terror group's branch in Afghanistan, confirming the death of its spokesman in a U.S. airstrike. 

A U.S. military official said Thursday that Sultan Aziz Azam was killed Sunday (Dec. 23) in Afghanistan's Nangarhar province. A second IS member was also killed in the strike.

Nangarhar province Afghanistan
Nangarhar province Afghanistan

No civilian casualties were reported as a result of the strike, which was first made public by Afghan officials.

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A spokesman for Afghanistan's Interior Ministry earlier told VOA that Azam was killed along with three of his guards.

The spokesman said Azam was responsible for recruiting fighters to carry out high-profile attacks against civilians.

U.S. report claims progress

News of the strike follows the release of a quarterly report by the Pentagon to U.S. lawmakers, which hailed progress by both U.S. and Afghan forces against the terror group, also known as IS-Khorasan of ISIS-K.

"ISIS-K faced significant territorial, leadership, and personnel losses in Nangarhar," according to the report, which covered the period from June to the end of November.

But the Pentagon report also warned despite progress in Nangarhar province, IS-Khorasan has been finding ways to hang on.

"It has sought refuge elsewhere in the country," the report said. "Although weakened, ISIS-K will most likely continue to plan and execute high-profile attacks in populated areas."

President Donald Trump speaks to reporters followi
President Donald Trump speaks to reporters following his teleconference with troops from his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla., Nov. 22, 2018.

Islamic State fighters remain

The strike against the IS-Khorasan spokesman also comes as U.S. President Donald Trump is reportedly considering a partial withdrawal from Afghanistan that would see nearly half of the roughly 14,000 U.S. troops in the country return home.

U.S. officials estimated that as of September 2018, IS-Khorasan still had more than 1,000 fighters in both Nangarhar and northern Jowzjan provinces.

Since 2017, U.S. airstrikes have killed at least three IS-Khorasan leaders, as well as other top officials.

IS poaching fighters

Most recently, on Aug. 26, the Afghan government announced the death of IS-Khorasan emir Abdu Saad Erhabi, along with his nine commanders, in a U.S. airstrike, calling it a "major blow" to the terror group.

FILE - Gen. John Nicholson, the top American comma
FILE - Gen. John Nicholson, the top American commander in Afghanistan, speaks to reporters, March 14, 2018, at Bagram air base north of Kabul, Afghanistan.

?But before stepping down in September, the former commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson, warned that while IS-Khorasan was not growing, it was having success replenishing its ranks by poaching fighters from other terrorist groups in the region.

VOA's Pashto service contributed to this report.

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