Head of the “Islamic State” (IS) terror group in Afghanistan has been killed in a US airstrike in Kunar province, the Pentagon confirmed. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis says Abu Sayed’s death is a significant blow to IS.

The Pentagon said in a statement on Friday that Abu Sayed was killed in a July 11 airstrike in Afghanistan’s northern Kunar province. The raid killed other “Islamic State” (IS) jihadis too.

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis termed Sayed’s killing a significant achievement.

“You kill a leader of one of these groups and it sets them back,” Mattis told reporters. “It is obviously a victory on our side in terms of setting them [IS] back. It’s the right direction,” he added.

Pentagon officials say the group now numbers fewer than 1,000 in Afghanistan.

US and Afghan forces had also killed Sayed’s two predecessors – Hafiz Saeed in July 2016, and Abdul Hasib in April this year.

At the time, the US military had said Hasib’s death would “help reach our goal of destroying them in 2017.”

“We will continue until they are annihilated. There is no safe haven for ISIS-K in Afghanistan,” said US General John Nicholson, who leads US forces in Afghanistan, referring to the jihadi group’s operations in its so-called “Khorasan province” that encompasses a historic region covering Central Asia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and parts of Iran.

Taliban still a major threat

Last month, the Pentagon announced it would send some 4,000 additional US troops to Afghanistan. The latest wave of troops will mainly be deployed to train and advise Afghan forces, following warnings by top US commanders in the region that the local military was facing a resurgent Taliban and a rising threat posed by IS.

Reports of IS presence in Afghanistan emerged in early 2015. In 2014, the Afghan government and US military officials acknowledged that the terror group was recruiting fighters in eastern Afghanistan, using the power vacuum in the Taliban leadership. But in the past few months, the Taliban, which as a group is at odds with IS, has made significant gains in Afghanistan. Security expers consider Taliban to be a much bigger threat to the stability of Afghanistan and Pakistan than IS.

Despite the fact that IS presence in Afghanistan seems quite limited, there is a possibility that the militant group is getting assistance, and possibly fighters, from neighboring Pakistan. The Islamic country is considered a breeding ground for Sunni militant groups. Afghan authorities have repeatedly accused Islamabad of supporting the Taliban and other militant groups and sending them into Afghanistan to destabilize the government.

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