KABUL — Capitalizing on the death of a top Islamic State commander in a raid late last month, Afghan forces are surging through districts in eastern Afghanistan long held by the radical group, officials said Monday.
Afghan forces were now entering numerous villages in that region for the first time in many months, thugh intense fighting and aerial bombardment is still going on in five districts of the Nangahar province. Officials said 34 militants had been killed by Afghan air strikes since Sunday.
The killing of Mullah Abdul Hasib Logari in an April 27 raid, announced Sunday night by the Pentagon and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, was carried out by a joint force of 50 U.S. special operations forces and 50 Afghan special security forces.
Two U.S. Army Rangers died during the operation “as a result of small arms fire,” said U.S. officials and they were identified Sunday as Sgt. Joshua P. Rodgers, 22, of Bloomington, Il., and Sgt. Cameron H. Thomas, 23, of Kettering, Ohio. Military officials previously said their deaths may have been caused by friendly fire.
The killing of Hasib was the third major blow suffered in recent months by the Islamic State in Khorasan, or ISIS-K, as the group’s local branch is known. Last August its former leader, Hafiz Saeed, was killed in a U.S. drone strike and on April 13, the U.S. military dropped its largest non-nuclear bomb on a complex of caves and tunnels used by the Islamic State in Nangahar, reportedly killing 36 militants.
U.S. military officials said the announcement of Hasib’s death was delayed until they could confirm his identity.
“This successful joint operation is another important step in our relentless campaign to defeat ISIS-K in 2017,” Gen. John Nicholson, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said in a statement. “This is the second emir we have killed in nine months” after two years in which he said the militant group has “waged a barbaric campaign of death, torture and violence against the Afghan people.”
A spokesman for the Nangahar governor, Ataullah Hoghiani, described Hasib as “very charismatic” and ambitious, leading insurgent operations across the country as well as Nangahar. He and other Afghan officials said Hasib had planned the stealthy terror attack March 8 on a military hospital in Kabul, which left scores of patients and staff dead.
Since Hasib’s death, Hoghiani said, the Islamic State has lost between 40 and 60 per cent of its forces in the region.