Islamic State is now recruiting in southern Afghanistan, the spiritual heart of the Taliban and the site of fierce combat between U.S. troops and insurgents in recent years. At the center of it: a former Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detainee who led a Taliban unit before the U.S. sent forces into the country in 2001.
His name is Mullah Abdul Rauf, Afghan officials told the Associated Press on Monday. He is believed to operating in Helmand province, where coalition troops withdrew in October, according to a tribal leader in Sangin district.
“People are saying that he has raised black flags and even has tried to bring down white Taliban flags in some areas,” the tribal leader, Saifullah Sanginwal, told the AP. “There are reports that 19 or 20 people have been killed” in fighting between the Taliban and the Islamic State group, he added. Those reports have not been confirmed by Afghan authorities.
Gen. Mahmood Khan, the No. 2 commander of the Afghan army in Helmand, also told the AP that Rauf had representatives fanning out across numerous Helmand districts within the past week.
Rauf was killed in a drone strike Monday.
Rauf and five others were killed, four of them Pakistani militants, said Mohammed Jan Rasoulya, the deputy governor of southern Helmand province. A senior Afghan security source confirmed Rauf’s death.