A former Guantanamo detainee and Taliban commander who is thought to have defected to the Islamic State was killed in a drone attack on Monday in Afghanistan, according to local officials.
Mullah Abdul Rauf was among at least six people who died in the southern province of Helmand, when the car they were traveling in was targeted. The vehicle was allegedly carrying ammunition. A US army spokesman said coalition forces used a "precision, guided munition" to kill eight militants.
Rauf had been previously identified by Afghan officials as an active recruiter for the Islamic State. "A number of tribal leaders, jihadi commanders and some ulema (religious council members) and other people have contacted me to tell me that Mullah Rauf had contacted them and invited them to join him," General Mahmood Khan, the deputy commander of the army's 215 Corps, told AP.
The militant was believed to be mainly active in Helmand province. He was also thought to be commanding a number of others, who acted as representatives for him across the region.
According to the Washington Post, Rauf was also known as Abdul Rauf Aliza and Maulvi Abdul Rauf Khadim. Previously an active Taliban member, he spent six years from 2001 in Guantanamo Bay, where he was classified as being of "medium intelligence value," and of a medium threat level. In 2007, he was transferred back to Afghanistan.
During his time in Guantanamo he identified himself as a low-level Taliban foot soldier and food supplier, and admitted involvement in the production and sale of opium. It is believed that he became disgruntled with and defected from the Taliban after falling out with its leader, Mullah Omar.
The actual extent of Islamic State activity in Afghanistan is open to dispute. Declarations of loyalty by some Afghan militants have been described as a "branding exercise" because of the lack of strong evidence that the link goes beyond any publicised verbal pledges of allegiance.
"There are definitely al Qaeda and al Qaeda affiliates in Afghanistan, there's no question about that," James Cunningham, US ambassador to Afghanistan, said in October. However, he added that as to the "label or presence" of the Islamic State, "as far as I know, those are rumors. I haven't seen any firm reports or evidence of that."
Last week, a Taliban commander — Abdul Ghani — was reportedly killed by masked gunmen who claimed to be fighting for the Islamic State. This incidence, which took place in Logar province, was interpreted as possible evidence of a turf war between the two militant groups.
In a separate report, the governor of Northeastern Kunduz, Mohammad Omar Safi, told Pajhwok Afghan News that there were around 70 Islamic State militants operating in his province, and that the Afghan government needed to do something to combat them.
In Helmand province, Saifullah Sanginwal — a tribal leader in the town of Sangin — said about 20 people had been killed in recent skirmishes between Islamic State and Taliban factions.
Islamic State leaflets were distributed to Afghan refugee camps in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province in late August/early September 2014. Published in Pashto and Darri, they featured the Islamic State flag, and stated that the caliphate currently established in some parts of Syria and northern Iraq would also extend to Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
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