Afghanistan said on Saturday that recent US airstrikes it assisted had destroyed the top leadership of a fledging affiliate there, potentially striking a major blow to an insurgent group already targeted by local Taliban fighters.
While US officials declined to confirm it, Afghan authorities said an American airstrike on Friday killed Isis affiliate leader Hafiz Sayeed and more than 30 other militants.
That came after Afghan officials said another US airstrike on Tuesday killed the affiliate’s second-highest official, Gul Zaman, and six others, including a former Pakistani Taliban spokesman named Shahidullah Shahid.
“With the killings of Hafiz Sayeed, Gul Zaman and Shahidullah Shahid, who were the high-profile figures of [Isis] in , we have destroyed the base of Isis,” said Abdul Hassib Sediqi, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security.
Sediqi offered no photographs or other evidence to show the strikes killed the Isis affiliate’s top leaders, though he said Afghan authorities verified a corpse from Friday’s strike was Sayeed. Militants with the group have not discussed the strikes online.
Nato officials declined to immediately comment on the claim, saying they would issue a statement later Saturday. US army colonel Brian Tribus, a spokesman for US Forces-Afghanistan, confirmed Americans carried out an airstrike Friday in Nangarhar’s Achin District, but declined to comment further.
Nato and US officials have not commented on Tuesday’s strike earlier discussed by Afghan officials.
Isis, which holds a self-declared “caliphate” across roughly a third of Syria and Iraq, has inspired militants across the greater Middle East and Africa to declare allegiance to its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The militants include those in Egypt who purportedly claimed a car bombing early on Saturday at the Italian consulate in Cairo that killed one person.
The US and its allies also carried out 34 air strikes against Isis militants in Syria and Iraq on Friday, the US military said.
In Syria, targets near the city of Hasaka were hit in 12 of 17 strikes, a US military statement said on Saturday. The allied forces also carried out 17 air strikes near eight cities in Iraq, including four near the northern city of Mosul.
They also include militants in and Afghanistan, the target of a US-led invasion after the 2001 al-Qaida terror attacks on America.
Disenchanted extremists from the Taliban and other organisations, impressed by Isis territorial gains and slick online propaganda, began raising its black flag in extremist-dominated areas of both countries in recent months.
Analysts and officials say the number of Isis supporters in the Afghan-Pakistan region remains small and that the group faces resistance from militants with strong tribal links. However, the rise of even a small Isis affiliate could further destabilise the region and complicate US and Nato efforts to end the 13-year Afghan war.
In April, a motorcycle-riding suicide bomber attacked a line of people waiting outside a bank in eastern Afghanistan, killing at least 35 and wounding 125 in an assault the country’s president blamed on Isis. Other violence has been blamed on the Islamic State affiliate, including gun battles between its followers and the Taliban, which warned Isis to stay out of the country.
Afghan officials have suggested the Isis affiliate had a presence in three of its provinces, including Nangarhar, which borders Pakistan and frequently sees militants cross its borders.
Sediqi, the National Directorate of Security spokesman, said Afghan officials had created a special intelligence unit to target the Isis affiliate and its work directly aided the US airstrikes.
“Daesh activities have been totally disturbed here and it is not easy for them to replace all these high-ranking figures any time soon,” he said, using another name for Isis.
Also on Saturday, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Syrian army airstrikes killed at least 28 people in the Isis-held town of al-Bab in northern Syria, including 19 civilians. The Local Coordination Committees group said the barrel bombings killed 29 people.
Al-Bab is a frequent target of Syrian army strikes that often kill civilians. On 31 May, Syrian army airstrikes that hit a packed market in al-Bab killed around 70 people, most of them civilians.