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Air strikes hit Afghan IS branch

US air strikes have destroyed the top leadership of a fledging Islamic State (IS) affiliate in Afghanistan in a major blow to the insurgent group, Afghan officials said.

Authorities said the US strike had killed IS leader Hafeez Sayeed and more than 30 other militants.

This comes after Afghan officials said another US air strike on Tuesday killed the affiliate's second-highest official, Gul Zaman, and six others, including former Pakistani Taliban spokesman Shahidullah Shahid, who earlier had joined the group.

"With the killings of Hafeez Sayeed, Gul Zaman and Shahidullah Shahid, who were the high-profile figures of Daesh in Afghanistan, we have destroyed the base of Isis," said Abdul Hassib Sediqi, a spokesman for Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security, using two alternate names for the militant group.

The US has declined to confirm any details.

Mr Sediqi offered no photographs or other evidence to show the strikes killed the IS affiliate's top leaders, though he said Afghan authorities verified that a corpse from Friday's strike was Sayeed. Militants with the group have not discussed the strikes.

Nato officials declined to immediately comment on the claim, saying they would issue a statement later on Saturday.

US Army Col Brian Tribus, a spokesman for US forces in Afghanistan, confirmed Americans had carried out an air strike on 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.

IS, which holds a self-declared "caliphate" across roughly third of Syria and neighbouring 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.

They also include militants in Pakistan 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 IS territorial gains and slick online propaganda, have begun raising its black flag in extremist-dominated areas of both countries in recent months.

Analysts and officials say the number of IS 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 IS 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 IS.

Other violence has been blamed on the IS affiliate, including gun battles between its followers and the Taliban, who have warned IS to stay out of the country. Afghan officials have suggested IS had a presence in three of its provinces, including Nangarhar, which borders Pakistan and frequently sees militants cross its borders.

Mr Sediqi, the national directorate of security spokesman, said Afghan officials had created a special intelligence unit to target IS, and its work directly aided the US air strikes.

"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.

Meanwhile on Saturday, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said army air strikes killed at least 28 people in the Islamic State-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 May 31, Syrian army air strikes that hit a packed market in al-Bab killed around 70 people, most of them civilians.


From Belfast Telegraph