Islamic State Khorasan in Afghanistan, the ISIS affiliated group in the region, has named a new chief for the terrorist organization after its former leader was killed in a joint operation by U.S. and Afghan troops in April, Circa has learned.
Last week, Afghanistan’s ISIS affiliate sent a list of six prospective candidates to ISIS terror leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, hoping to quickly select a new commander as it continues to threaten the Afghan government, Pakistan and U.S. forces in the region.
Circa was not given specifics on how Baghdadi received the list but Afghan intelligence sources, as well as Pakistan Taliban sources allied with ISIS in the region, say that former low-level Taliban commander Sheikh Matiullah Afghani was selected.
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Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Intelligence, similar to the United States’ CIA, became aware of the selection on Saturday, when they intercepted communications with the group congratulating each other about Afghani’s appointment as leader.
Afghani is believed to be 42, and his tribe is from the Asadabad area in the eastern Kunar province of Afghanistan. He was a Taliban commander but broke from its ranks to join ISIS in early June, 2016.
ISIS did not immediately announce its new appointment in Afghanistan.
Afghani’s selection comes at a time when U.S. officials are warning that the situation in Afghanistan is growing more precarious. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told lawmakers at a recent intelligence hearing that the intelligence community believes “the political and security situation in Afghanistan will almost certainly deteriorate through 2018, even with a modest increase in military assistance by the United States and its partners.”
A U.S. military official with knowledge of the growing crisis said, however, “the U.S. and Afghanistan will do everything in its power to dismantle and destroy the growing threat of ISIS in South Asia. It will not be easy but it will be done.”
The former leader of ISIS in Afghanistan Sheikh Abdul Hasib was killed in a joint operation with U.S. and Afghan commandos on April 27. During that operation, other high-ranking ISIS leaders and 35 fighters were killed, U.S. and Afghan officials said.
Afghani, however, was not a unanimous pick and leaders with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, an ISIS affiliated group in the region, protested the selection by Baghdadi’s nomination. This terrorist group was vying for one of its own, Abdul Rahman Yuldash, who is known as Asad. His father, former leader of the movement, was killed in a U.S. drone strike in North Waziristan in 2010.