ISIS leader in Afghanistan is killed by drone, Pentagon says

A US airman guides a US Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drone as it taxis to the runway at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, on March 9, 2016.
A US airman guides a US Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drone as it taxis to the runway at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, on March 9, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - The leader of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria's (ISIS) branch in Afghanistan, Abu Sayed, was killed by a US drone strike this week, the Pentagon said Friday (July 14).

The strike, on Tuesday, targeted the militants' headquarters in Kunar province, Afghanistan.

Other members of the group were also killed in the operation, the Pentagon said in a statement, which asserted that the attack would "significantly disrupt the terror group's plans to expand its presence in Afghanistan."

The ISIS, however, has proved its resilience by replacing its leaders soon after they are killed.

Sayed was chosen to lead the group in Afghanistan after his predecessor, Abdul Hasib, was killed in April during a special forces raid in Nangarhar province, where the militant group has been active. Two US Army Rangers were killed in the April operation, perhaps by friendly fire, the Pentagon has said.

In Afghanistan, the group goes by the Islamic State in Khorasan, an ancient name for the region that includes portions of Afghanistan and Pakistan. It has sought to expand the scope of its operations in Afghanistan, but the location of the latest strike, in Kunar province, suggests the group may be falling back from its stronghold of neighboring Nangarhar.

The Trump administration is conducting a review to determine its broader strategy to deal with the nearly 16-year-old conflict in Afghanistan. Defence Secretary James Mattis, who had told lawmakers he expected the review to be completed by mid-July, told reporters Friday that it was close to completion.

"We're not going to meet some timeline if we are not ready," he said. "But we're pretty close." As a stopgap, the White House has authorised Mattis to send nearly 4,000 troops to Afghanistan, though none appear to have been deployed so far.