SHAFAQNA (International Shia News Association)- A former Taliban commander who had recently pledged allegiance to the Islamic State militant group was killed in a military operation in Helmand Province on Monday, according to Afghan officials and a tribal elder in the area.
Precise details were unavailable. In announcing the death of the commander, Mullah Abdul Rauf Khadim, the Afghan spy agency said that it had been tracking him for a month, and that he and five of his men had been killed in a “successful military operation” in the Kajaki district of Helmand.
The deputy governor of the region, Mohammad Jan Rasolyaar, said that the actual strike that killed Mullah Khadim had come from an American drone. A spokesman for the American-led military coalition in Afghanistan, Col. Brian Tribus, confirmed that the coalition had conducted a “precision strike” in Helmand that killed “eight individuals threatening the force.” But American officials would not say who was targeted in the strike or whether it was a part of the military operation against Mr. Khadim.
If confirmed, the strike against Mullah Khadim would be the first known military operation undertaken against the Islamic State in Afghanistan, more than 1,000 miles from the group’s home territory in Syria and Iraq.
In the past few months, Mullah Khadim and a few other former Taliban commanders in Afghanistan were said to have proclaimed their allegiance to the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, and had begun seeking recruits. But the development seemed to point less to a major expansion of the Islamic State than to a deepening of internal divisions within the Taliban.
There has been little evidence that the Islamic State’s leadership has operational control in any areas within Afghanistan, unlike in Syria and Iraq, where the group announced its presence by storming towns and killing Shiites and other religious minorities.
But ISIS has announced its interest in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and reportedly has sent envoys there to recruit. And in far-flung corners of Afghanistan, local reports are circulating of mysterious groups of foreign fighters, often flying black flags and believed to represent the Islamic State.
The accounts have mostly been difficult to confirm as they involved parts of the country dominated by the Taliban beyond the government’s reach. In at least one case, some of the government’s information about an encampment of the fighters came from a passing shepherd.
But Mullah Khadim’s decision to begin openly recruiting for a local cell of the Islamic State under his command drew significant attention not only in Kabul, but also in Washington. That was partly because he was a former detainee at the Guantánamo Bay prison camp, and after his release he became a high-enough commander in the Taliban to warrant making the United Nations sanctions list.
According to people who knew Mullah Khadim, he had become disillusioned with the Taliban’s leadership, and openly doubted whether the Taliban’s reclusive leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, was still alive.
A man who said he was one of Mullah Khadim’s subcommanders claimed last month that they had recruited about 300 fighters to join their branch of the Islamic State. But the local Taliban commander said that Mullah Khadim’s following amounted to fewer than a dozen longtime supporters and that there was no evidence that the Islamic State was making any gains in the area.
A tribal elder, also from the Kajaki district, said that Mullah Khadim and four others had been killed while returning from a livestock market, where they had gone “to preach and encourage people to join Islamic State” before an audience of hundreds.