THE man leading a recruitment drive for the Islamic State group in Afghanistan was killed by a drone strike yesterday, along with up to five other militants, marking the first such attack on the extremist group in a volatile country where it has a small but growing following.
The deputy governor of the southern Helmand province identified the recruiter as Abdul Rauf, saying he and four comrades had been killed when a drone-fired missile struck their car.
The car was reportedly loaded with ammunition and exploded.
Afghanistan’s intelligence service put the death toll at six and said Afghan forces had fired the missile.
Rauf has been influential in Afghanistan’s jihadi movement for well over a decade.
Media reports last month said he had begun recruiting for Islamic State (IS), part of a push by the movement to gain traction beyond its stronghold in Iraq and Syria.
The militant commander’s brother-in-law and four Pakistanis were also killed in the attack, Helmand police chief Nabi Jan Mullahkhel said yesterday.
The United States operates drones over Afghanistan and neighbouring Pakistan.
While Helmand officials said six people had been killed, the United States army said coalition forces had used a “precision, guided munition” to kill eight people who were considered a threat.
“We are working to confirm the identities of those killed in the strike,” Colonel Brian Tribus said. He declined to say if the missile had been launched by a drone.
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND MOBILE APPS
The deadly attack would appear to deal a blow to IS’s efforts to develop a local affiliate to challenge the long-dominant Taleban.
Last month, Afghan tribal leaders and western intelligence analysts described Rauf as the top IS recruiter in Helmand. They said he was a former Taleban commander who had defected to IS, and that he had started raising IS-style black flags in Helmand towns and villages, and taking down the Taleban’s rival white flags.
Saifullah Sanginwal, a tribal leader in the Helmand town of Sangin, said about 20 people had been killed in recent turf wars between IS and Taleban factions.
IS controls a third of both Syria and Iraq, where it has declared a caliphate governed by a harsh interpretation of Islamic law and demanded the allegiance of the world’s Muslims.
The Taleban, by contrast, is focused on Afghanistan and Pakistan, and some of its leaders have responded to peace overtures in the past.
Analysts and officials say the number of IS supporters in Afghanistan and Pakistan remains small and that the group faces resistance from more established militants with strong tribal links.