A senior Pakistani Taliban leader who defected to Isil has been killed in a drone strike with other senior militants, a local security official said.
Sheikh Maqbool, who operated under the nom de guerre Shahidullah Shahid and had been chief spokesman of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), was killed in neighbouring Afghanistan along with Gul Zaman, a military commander from Pakistan’s Orakzai tribal region.
Gul Zaman had been appointed deputy leader of the “Khorasan Province”, the fast-growing Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant branch in Afghanistan.
The total death toll from the strike remains unclear, and there are no reports whether the leader of the group, Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, was at the meeting which was targeted.
According to at least one Pakistani official, the toll was 11 dead and four injured, all defectors from the Pakistan to Isil and all from Orakzai. However, other reports put the death toll at 49 militants, attending a “shura” or council meeting.
The Afghan intelligence agency, National Directorate of Security, confirmed Shahid’s killing in a statement.
The Pentagon confirmed there had been a series of strikes in the Achin district of Nangarhar on Monday and Tuesday. “"All of these strikes were conducted against individuals threatening U.S. and coalition forces," a spokesman said.
A Pakistani official said: “There was an Isil shura meeting when the missiles hit them.
“It was a pretty massive hit. So many Isil fighters and commanders have been killed in one go.”
Shahidullah Shahid had left TTP to join Isil after Pakistan’s military operation in June last year that evicted the Pakistani militant group from its stronghold of North Waziristan.
This was another example of military action against an al-Qaeda associated or allied group backfiring when the defeated or targeted elements turned to Isil’s more “successful” brand for protection.
Both the TTP and the local Isil branch, announced last year, had their bases in Pakistan’s Khyber tribal region’s mountainous Tirah Valley.
After the Pakistan army advanced there too, they abandoned their sanctuary and moved to Afghanistan’s Nangrahar province.
The official said the Afghan Taliban quickly moved to the area and seized the charred bodies. “Isil has now requested the TTA to return the bodies”, the official said, referring to the acronym of the Afghan Taliban.
That request was despite a battle between the Taliban and Isil in both Nangrahar and Kunar provinces of Afghanistan.
Officials said that Isil had seized control of some areas in Afghanistan close to the Pakistani border after evicting TTA fighters.
“The TTA has called for reinforcements and they are moving back to reclaim the area”, the official said.