Drone Kills Top Islamic State Leader, Pentagon Claims, IS Denies

A top leader of the so-called Islamic State has been killed in a U.S. drone strike, according to Pentagon, whose such claims have been denied by the terrorist group. The Pentagon said in a statement on Friday (August 12) that Hafiz Saeed Khan, a senior IS leader in Pakistan and Afghanistan, was killed late last month.

"They got him," a U.S. defense authority who remained anonymous said ahead of the official statement, according to GEO TV.

"Khan was known to directly participate in attacks against U.S. and coalition forces, and the actions of his network terrorized Afghans, especially in Nangarhar," mentioned Gordon Trowbridge, Deputy Press Secretary of Pentagon, in the official written statement.

Though the statement did not specify if a drone was involved, according to Dunya News, BBC was informed that Khan was indeed killed in a drone-strike.

The IS leader was targeted on July 26 in Nangarhar, a southern Afghan province, where the joint special forces of the U.S. and Afghanistan were conducting anti-IS operations. His death is believed to be a huge blow to the infamous terrorist organization in the region that is already awash with many extremist groups such as al Qaeda and Taliban.

The Pentagon spokesperson added that the activities – that aimed to provide a "continuous supply of enemy fighters" – of the so-called Islamic State had increased in the region since last summer, Fox News reports.

IS supporters posing with the flag
IS increased its activities in Afghanistan since last year. [Photo by Iraq Counterterrorism Service/AP Images]The terrorist organization has denied the U.S. reports of their leader's death and has insisted that he survived the attack.

"I can confirm that ISIS Khorasan leader Hafiz Saeed Khan along with his senior commanders and fighters died in a U.S. drone strike on July 26 in Kot district of Afghanistan's Nangharhar province," Omar Zakhilwal, Afghan ambassador to Pakistan, told Reuters on Friday. Pentagon spokesperson Trowbridge later confirmed the news, but corrected that the target was taken down in the Achin district, instead of Kot.

His death is another high-profile killing of a terrorist in the region in months. Mullah Akhtar Mansour, a Taliban leader in Afghanistan, was killed in a U.S. airstrike in Pakistan in May this year.

Khan was declared a terrorist by the State Department last year, dubbing him the IS head of the "Khorasan province." The "province" includes Pakistan, Afghanistan and parts of the neighboring countries. He was formerly a commander of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), but switched allegiance to the Middle-East based IS in October last year.

Taliban and al Qaeda are bitter rivals of the Islamic State. In Afghanistan, Taliban and IS, apart from fighting U.S. and Afghan forces, have also been fighting each other, mostly over the control of the region. It is also worth mentioning that Taliban do not accept the IS Chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as a global caliphate.

Saeed Khan was erroneously declared dead by Afghan authorities in July last year. They believed he was killed in a drone strike which targeted the Nangarhar province.

Most NATO counter-terrorism troops have left Afghanistan, with the Afghan local forces now handling security. In January, the U.S. President Barrack Obama granted the U.S. military authority to carry out airstrikes against the so-called Islamic State in Afghanistan. At that time, there were an estimated 3,000 IS militants in the country, a number much smaller than the 25,000 – 30,000 Taliban fighters. Recent estimates indicate around only half the number of IS militants to exist in the region, thanks to the air and ground operations from security forces.

US President Obama Authorizes Air Strikes in Afghanistan
Obama authorizes drone strike in January. [Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images]Afghan forces, with help from the U.S. military, killed some 300 Islamic State fighters two weeks ago in an operation which is claimed to have caused a major setback to the fanatical group. The latest killing of their top leader, something which they have denied, is sure to be an additional blow to their aspirations.

[Photo by Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP Images]