AT News Report-KABUL: A U.S. airstrike killed Qari Hikmatullah and his bodyguard in Bal Chiragh district, Faryab province, Afghanistan, Apr. 5, 2018, a statement from the US military said on Monday.
At the time of his death, Hikmatullah was the senior IS-K commander and the main facilitator of IS-K fighters into northern Afghanistan.
IS-K in Jowzjan province is the main conduit for external support and foreign fighters from Central Asian states into Afghanistan. Hikmatullah was the key leader for those operations.
Hikmatullah, a native Uzbek, had a history of divided loyalties; first as an Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan leader, followed by allegiance to the Taliban, and ultimately IS-K, the statement added.
IS-K reportedly named Mawlavi Habibul Rahman, another native Uzbek, as Hikmatullah’s successor. Rahman’s succession to a leadership role raises concerns across IS-K followers in remote, isolated areas of Jowzjan. Rahman has had intermittent ties to the Taliban, highlighting the difficulty IS-K is having replacing leaders.
“ASSF and U.S. counter-terrorism forces killed Hikmatullah and they will kill any successors,” said General John Nicholson, commander, U.S. Forces-Afghanistan. “IS-K will be eliminated.”
A series of Afghan Special Security Forces and U.S. Special Operations Forces counter-terrorism operations have depleted IS-K of viable leadership options in Jowzjan.
ASSF and U.S. SOF killed an IS-K platoon-level commander and another terrorist fighter during a partnered nighttime raid in Mughul, Mar. 26-27, 2018. Four days earlier on Mar. 22, ASSF and U.S. SOF eliminated four IS-K fighters in Darzab.
On Mar. 16, a U.S. airstrike killed IS-K platoon commanders, Omair and Abu Samaya, as the duo met in Sar-e Pul province. Later that evening, an ASSF nighttime raid on the IS-K headquarters in Jowzjan resulted in the removal of another 13 terrorists. Afghan forces captured Omair and Abu Samaya’s predecessor Khitab Aka, IS-K’s former head facilitator of foreign fighters in Jowzjan on Jan. 28, the statement added.