The Department of Defense released details — and video — of an April 5 airstrike that killed top Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – Khorasan Province (ISIS-K) commander Qari Hikmatullah and his bodyguard in northern Afghanistan.
According to a story published on the Defense Visual Information Distribution Service (DVIDS), Hikmatullah was a “senior ISIS-K commander and the main facilitator of ISIS-K fighters in northern Afghanistan.”
Hikmatullah, originally from Uzbekistan, was largely responsible for bringing in foreign fighters and lethal aid into Afghanistan. Before joining ISIS-K, Hikmatullah was part of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and then pledged his allegiance to the Taliban.
In his place ISIS-K has promoted Mawlavi Habibul Rahman, also from Uzbekistan, to take Hikmatullah’s place. Rahman has a history of mixed allegiances and several ISIS-K leaders in northern Afghanistan are displeased with the appointment.
The DOD says that their counterterrorism operations in the Jowzjan Province have left ISIS-K with few options for leadership.
In March 2018, the U.S. eliminated another ISIS-K leader as well as several fighters in separate strikes throughout Afghanistan. In January 2018, Hikmatullah’s predecessor was captured by Afghan Special Security Forces (ASSF) during a raid.
This latest strike is part of the broader South Asia Strategy President Trump announced in August of 2017. Under the new strategy, written by Secretary of Defense James Mattis, U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan are conducting more counterterrorism operations with Afghan Special Security Forces, while simultaneously training the Afghan National Army (ANA) to operate independently and effectively.
In February, the U.S. Army’s First Security Force Assistance Brigade deployed to Afghanistan and took responsibility for training the ANA. Their deployment frees up U.S. Special Operations Forces units to work more closely with ASSF.