ISLAMABAD: The killing of the Daesh regional leader Abu Sayed in a recent US airstrike in Afghanistan's eastern Kunar province comes at a time when some of the group's leaders were reportedly involved in power struggle.
Pentagon spokesperson Dana W White and US Forces Afghanistan Commander Gen John Nicholson, on Saturday confirmed the death. They called Sayed as the "emir" of Islamic State, Khorasan. Daesh has not yet commented in this regard.
There are also conflicting reports if Abu Sayed was the Daesh chief or was a low-ranking leader? An Afghan Taliban leader, who knew Abu Sayed, said he is not sure if Sayed was leading the group. His name was not among the senior leaders, who had been involved in the power struggle after the death of its chief Abdul Haseeb Logari in a drone strike in May. Hafiz Saeed Khan, who could be called as the first recognised Daesh chief for Khorasan, was also killed along with several top leaders in July last year in eastern Nangarhar province. Khan, who belonged to Orakzai Agency, was the council member of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan until he and several other commanders declared allegiance to Daesh in 2014.
"On 11th of July we killed Abu Sayed the ISSI-K emir in a strike in Kunar. This is the third emir of ISSI-K that we have killed in operations in operation with Afghan partners in the past year," Gen John Nicholson said on Saturday.
"We have continued operations against the Islamic State in Afghanistan throughout the past year but especially since March. And in this time we have seen great reduction in their fighters. We have killed three of their emirs. We have killed dozens of their senior leaders and we will not stop until ISIS-K is defeated inside Afghanistan," the American General said in a video posted on the official Twitter of the "Resolute Support" mission.
The Pentagon statement has said ISIS leaders chose Abu Sayed to lead the group after Afghan and US forces killed the previous ISIS-K leaders - Hafiz Sayed Khan in late July 2016, and Abdul Hasib, in late April of this year.
Afghan and US forces launched a counter-ISIS-K offensive in early March 2017 to drive fighters from Nangarhar and send a clear message to ISIS that there is no sanctuary for their fighters in Afghanistan, it said.
The death of Abu Sayed is a setback for the Daesh as it has lost another leader and a Pakistani militant leader says the death could further complicate the leadership's problems.
After Logari's death, several leaders were mentioned in reports who were vying for the top position. When a Pakistani militant Aslam Farooqi projected him as the new ISSI-K leader, an Uzbek national Muaweya Uzbekistani distributed a leaflet to deny Farooqi's claim. Later another Pakistani national Saif-ul Islam surfaced as the new leader.
Suspicions about ISSI-K: There are serious suspicions among Afghans about the ISSI phenomena in Afghanistan and some Afghan analysts its presence has been highly exaggerated.
Many questioned the use of the so-called "mother of all bombs" in Afghanistan when the bomb had never been used either in Syria or Iraq to target the ISSI.
Section of the Afghan media also doubted the impression created in June that Daesh fighters captured Tora Bora from the Taliban. They said Daesh was not so strong to capture Tora Bora but according to them the reports were spread to give importance to Daesh. They argue media reports could be an attempt to justify the call of the Afghan leaders for the deployment of more troops in Afghanistan.
When the reports of the Daesh reaching Tora Bora appeared, police chief in southwestern Ghor province, General Mustafa Mohsini, said Daesh has established basis in the mountainous region of Ferozkoh. Reports also quoted officials in northern Afghanistan about exchange of prisoners with Daesh. All these reports were described as a move to project Daesh under a plan.
Zahir Qadeer, the National Assembly's member from Nangarhar, has been quoted as saying that the Americans have "delivered containers loaded with arms and other equipment to Daesh in the outskirts of Tora Bora."
Acting Defence Minister Tariq Shah Behrami said last month that Daesh is now active in Zabul province. Taliban had killed dozens of the ISSI militants in Zabul when the Taliban killed a senior rebel Taliban leader Mansoor Dadullah in Zabul in November 2015.
Konar provincial governor Wahidollah Kalimzai said this month that around 200 to 300 individuals are working for Daesh in the province, according to Tolo TV.
Governor of Kunar Province claims recruits, who have joined Daesh over the recent months, have arrived in Kunar and are promoting Daesh.
Afghanistan's influential daily Sarnawesht said in one of its editorial said, "The Afghan forces have sustained huge casualties in a bid to clear some areas in Shinwar District of Nangarhar Province of Daesh fighters, but today under a secret deal control of these areas are again handed over to Daesh... This is not clear how long this proxy war will take its toll on the Afghan people. With every passing day the war in Afghanistan is taking on new aspects and possibly Afghanistan will suffer the same fate of Syria due to the foreigners' war..."
The exact number of Daesh fighters is difficult but the Commander of the Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan Gen John Nicholson said last year that the number of Daesh fighters in Afghanistan is estimated to be 3,000 men and operations are under way to completely destroy this group in the country. However, Daesh has spread to other parts. He had also claimed in July 2016 that the Afghan security forces succeeded in collaboration with Resolute Support Mission to kill 1,500 Daesh fighters.
It is believed that Daesh could attract some more hardliners from the Afghan Taliban if they formally join peace process.
In Pakistan, the sectarian group "Lashkar-e-Jhangvi Al-alami" and Daesh now reportedly coordinate attacks; however, the Lashkar's spokesman Ali bin Sufyan in a recent statement dismissed the reports as false and said the group - Daesh provides manpower and Lashkar facilitate attacks, according to a Pakistani militant leader, who is privy to the new strategy.
Lashkar is now seemed to have shifted focus to Daesh from its longstanding association with al-Qaeda, he says. The Daesh-Lashkar strategy could be seen a new challenge for Pakistan.
He says that Lashkar-e-Islam group, which was based in Khyber tribal region and now operates from the Afghan side of the border, is very close to Daesh because of its anti-Shia and anti-Barelvi approach.
Talking to Daily Times, he disagreed with reports that Jamaatul Ahrar is inching towards an alliance with Daesh.
Also Omar Khalid Khorasani, the Jamaatul Ahrar chief, himself clarified his position about Daesh and said in an audio message earlier this year.
"As it is said that we are linked to Dawlatul Islamia (Daesh) or al Qaeda, we strongly reject this claim and make it clear that we have no 'bayah' (allegiance) or affiliation to any of these 2 organizations. Although Mujahideen of Islamic state and al-Qaeda and all the jihadi organizations in the world are our brothers, we had no relationship with them in the past and no relationship now," he said in a video.
Published in Daily Times, July 16th , 2017.