The head of ISIL (also known as ISIS) in Afghanistan was killed in an operation led by Afghan special forces in the eastern province of Nangarhar last month, US military officials confirmed on Sunday.
Abdul Hasib – appointed last year after his predecessor Hafiz Saeed Khan died in a US drone attack – is believed to have ordered a series of high-profile attacks, including one in March on the main military hospital in Kabul by a group of fighters disguised as doctors.
US military officials in Afghanistan have previously said Hasib’s death would “significantly degrade” the group’s operations and “help reach our goal of destroying them in 2017”.
Last month, a Pentagon spokesman said Hasib had probably been killed during a raid by US and Afghan special forces in Nangarhar, during which two US Army Rangers were killed. But there was no confirmation.
The compound was located near the tunnel complex where the US military dropped its largest non-nuclear device on April 13, killing 94 fighters, including four commanders.
Afghanistan’s government confirmed Hasib’s death on April 27.
“He had ordered the attack on 400-bed hospital in Kabul that resulted in the death and injuries of a number of our countrymen, women. The Afghan government is committed to continuing its operations against Daesh and other terrorist groups until they are annihilated,” it said in a statement, using another name for ISIL.
The local affiliate of ISIL – sometimes known as ISIL Khorasan (ISIL-K), after an old name for the region that includes Afghanistan – has been active since 2015, fighting the Taliban as well as Afghan and US forces.
It is believed to maintain links with the main ISIL group in Iraq and Syria, but has considerable operational independence.
“If it is true that American and Afghan security forces managed to kill the head of ISIL in Afghanistan that would be a big victory… but it doesn’t mean that it’s the end of ISIL here,” Al Jazeera’s Qais Azimy said, reporting from Kabul.
After a steady downsizing of US troop numbers since 2011, US military commanders say they need to strengthen the numbers on the ground to better support Afghan forces and help retake territory lost to the Taliban.
The Pentagon will ask for 3,000 to 5,000 more soldiers, mainly to be assigned to advise and train Afghan military and police, according to US media.
US troops in Afghanistan number about 8,400 today, and there are another 5,000 from NATO allies, also now in an advisory capacity.
But that is a far cry from the US presence of more than 100,000 six years ago, and the Afghan military has struggled to fill the void amid an unrelenting Taliban insurgency.