April 7, 2018 / 3:11 PM / 8 months ago

Afghan air strike kills Islamic State commander

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan forces killed an Islamic State commander in an air strike, one year after he defected from the Taliban and established a new IS foothold within the country, security officials said.

Qari Hekmat was killed in a drone strike on Thursday afternoon in the Darz Aab district of Afghanistan’s northern Jawzjan province, said Hanif Rezaee, spokesman for the Afghan National Army Air Corps.

The militant group established a new foothold in the province last year when Hekmat defected from the Taliban, attracting the attention of U.S. forces.

Hekmat is at least the seventh senior IS member killed in Afghanistan in the last 11 months.

“We are conducting a series of intensive operations in Jawzjan and across all of northern Afghanistan to defeat IS-K,” said Colonel Lisa Garcia, spokeswoman for U.S. Forces-Afghanistan in a statement, using the term for IS in the region.

IS claimed responsibility for suicide bombs last month near Shi’ite mosques in Herat and Kabul. Both the Western-backed government in Kabul and the main Islamist militant group, the Taliban, are fighting Islamic State.

The militant group first appeared in Afghanistan three years ago. Its fighters have been active in the north of the country as well as in its main stronghold area in the eastern province of Nangarhar on the border with Pakistan.

While sectarian violence in mainly Sunni Muslim Afghanistan was previously rare, a series of attacks over recent years - many claimed by IS - have killed hundreds of Shi’ites.

Reporting by Hamid Shalizi in Kabul; Additional reporting and writing by Rod Nickel in Kabul; Editing by Michael Perry and Hugh Lawson

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