The ISK (Islamic State in Khurasan) leader Hafiz Saeed Khan was reportedly killed in a joint operation led by Afghan military forces in eastern province of Nangarhar recently. According to security officials, Saeed Khan was killed along with his three close aides in outskirts of Achen district of the province. Achen is known to be one of the main strongholds of the group in eastern Afghanistan.
Shereen Agha, an Afghan military spokesperson, has confirmed the killing of Hafiz Saeed Khan. Speaking to Khabarnama, Agha said, “Hafiz Saeed, the leader of the Islamic State in Afghanistan and Pakistan was slayed in a joint operation on July 26 in eastern Nangarhar province.”
During a formal visit to Achen district and based on his intelligence inputs, the commander of 201 Military Corps confirmed the death of Hafiz Saeed to several news reporters, Shereen Agha added.
The operation which led to the killing of Saeed Khan and his cohorts was planned according to the authentic intelligence reports of Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) in Nangarhar.
While trying to confirm the news through various channels, one security source told Khabarnama that “Yes. Hafiz Saeed is dead. He has been killed in Nangarhar.”
Based on the reports, Hafiz Saeed along with the group’s recruitment leader, Mullah Anas, were targeted on Takhto village of Acheen district some 13 days ago.
“His burial in Afghanistan cannot be confirmed. Heavy ground artilleries and airstrikes have targeted him. In our view, maybe his followers couldn’t even find out his body’s pieces!” Shereen Agha confirmed to Khabarnama.
The Afghan military forces’ on-going operations against ISIS fighters in Afghanistan apparently seems successful. According to the 201 Military Corps spokesperson, “These operations consequently led to the death of more than 10 senior ISK commanders in parts of Nangarhar, including Saad Emarati – ISIS’ operational commander in Afghanistan, and the fierce one, Jangal Pacha.”
The efficiency of these operations was even confirmed by NATO’s top commander Gen. Richard Nicholson, as once he told that “from January 2016 to the end of July, the number of ISIS fighters in Afghanistan decreased to half.”
Earlier, Gen. Nickholson had said that the number was between 2,500 – 3,000 armed men.
While the local military officials are quite sure about the murder of Hafiz Saeed, the Afghan ministry of defense cautiously speaks about the report.
The ministry’s spokesperson, Dawalat Waziri told Khabarnama that “We have heard the news via our commanders in the 201 Corps. The reports are yet to be confirmed officially. Our intelligence teams have begun their investigations to find out the truth. So far, we can’t neither reject nor confirm the reports.” He added that the sources confirming Saeed’s death also noted that his replacement is called Haseeb Logari, someone who is not a well-known figure at least for the media outlets here.
However, this is not the first time that media receives conflicting reports about the killing of Hafiz Saeed. Earlier in July 2015, the Afghan National Directorate of Security spokesperson Hasib Sidiqi, based on their intelligence reports stated that the sanctuary of Hafiz Saeed was bombed by NATO’s airstrikes. But, these remarks were neither confirmed through NATO nor from Islamic State’s official communications lines.
The aftermath of Hafiz Saeed death
Hafiz Saeed was the leader of Orakzai tribe – a tribe based in parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan – and, also of the outspoken anti-Shiite militants in Pakistan. He was also one of the prominent Pakistani Taliban working in Afghanistan. Later, due to some internal conflicts with Taliban’s leadership in Helmand province, he deserted the group and took over the reins of IS fighters in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
After killing of Saad Emarati – IS’ operational commander, the killing of Hafiz Saeed is yet another big blow to the Islamic State’s Afghanistan venture.
If the news of Saeed Khan’s death turns out to be true this time, the IS in Afghanistan would face a tough time ahead, without a unified and powerful leadership. The ISK would certainly lose its fire power and abilities to launch large-scale attacks in Afghanistan. The leadership vacuum for the time being would cause fear and mistrust among the ISK fighters and the moral of these fighters would decrease significantly.
At the same time, the IS fighting forces would probably join other insurgent groups, for instance, the Taliban – due to the continued ground and air joint operations.
But, there are many who question the prospect of the group in Afghanistan.
The so-called support of some regional countries, is one of the main concerns.
Recently, a number of reports are published which indicate that around 70 per cent of IS loyalists’ and fighters are possessing Pakistani ID cards.
If the involvement of regional support especially from Pakistan would be proved in backing IS in Afghanistan, finding a long-lasting solution to the issue would be problematic. At the same time, it would be hard to believe but IS with such kind of support may end in the immediate future.
Thus, the death of Hafiz Saeed Khan won’t be the end of ISIS as a whole in Afghanistan. However, one thing is crystal clear that after killing many high-profile figures of IS in Afghanistan, the group won’t be able to stage widespread attacks in near future.
The Taliban-ISIS alliance in Nangarhar
To deter the mounting pressures of ANSF on the ISIS in Afghanistan, the group turned to their first-ever enemies, the Taliban. ISK fighters through local leaders, built contacts with Taliban that led to a cease-fire among the fighters of the groups in eastern Nangarhar province, a Wall Street Journal report said.
Muhammand Zaman Waziri told WSJ, “before they had fierce fighting among each other but since two months they have stopped their fighting.”
It is apparent that the Islamic State in Afghanistan has perhaps explained their shared goals to the Taliban and is now trying to jointly fight back with their common enemy, the ANSF.
However, the Afghan commander stressed that the alliance is so shaky and could split up any time.
The move – after all shows that the ANSF operations were favoured. At the same time, these operations and ISK’ increasing presence lost in ground, show the commitment of the National Unity Government (NUG ) in the fight against ISIS. Once, Afghan President Ghani during an official visit to Nanagarhar ordered Afghan forces to root out the ISIS fighters’ within weeks.
It seems the ISK is having its hard days in Afghanistan. Death of their high-profile field commanders, alliance with their main rival Taliban and losing local support, has dented the group’s activities severely.