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KABUL, Afghanistan — A former Taliban commander who recently defected to ISIS has been killed in southern Afghanistan, local intelligence officials said Monday — the first time authorities have publicly acknowledged the extremist group’s presence in the country.
“Today at 1:28 p.m. [3.58 a.m. ET] in a successful operation, Abdul Rauf also known as 'Khadim' was killed along with his five companions in Sadat village of Kajaki district of Helmand province,” Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS) said in a written statement. “He was the commander of [ISIS] in southern Afghanistan.”
Rauf had spent "several years" at Guantanamo Bay, according to the deputy governor of Helmand province, Mohammad Jan Rasoulyar. After being released from U.S. custody he resumed activities with the Taliban but recently split from the group to join ISIS, Rasoulyar added.
While the NDS would not elaborate on how exactly the attack was executed, local officials told NBC News that Rauf was killed by NATO jets.
"Rauf and his men were ... killed in a coalition airstrike this morning as they were travelling in Toyota Corolla vehicle in Kajaki district [in Helmand province]," Rasoulyar said. "The operation took place in close coordination with Afghan security forces."
Mullah Abduraziq Akhund, a local government administrator of Kajaki district in Helmand echoed that report, adding: "Mullah Abdul Rauf was travelling in a car along his close men when came under attack."
NATO confirmed it had carried out "a precision coalition airstrike in Helmand ... resulting in the death of eight individuals threatening the force" but did not verify that Rauf had been killed.
Reuters, meanwhile, quoted provincial police chief Nabi Jan Mullahkhel as saying that Rauf was killed when a drone strike hit a car he was traveling in.
There was no explanation for the different accounts.
According to members of the Afghan Taliban, Rauf fought the Soviets in the 1980s and held important positions in the Taliban's government before it was toppled by U.S.-backed forces in 2001. He was then captured and imprisoned for years, a senior Taliban commander told NBC News.
"He had lost one of his legs during the war against Russians and was thus known as 'gud Mullah' or 'Mullah of one leg' in Taliban circles," an Afghan Taliban commander told NBC News.
Militants in Afghanistan have been joining a new ISIS chapter in the region, fighters recently told NBC News. In October, militants aligned with ISIS launched a brutal offensive in Afghanistan alongside Taliban fighters that left more than 100 people dead. Insurgents carrying the black flag of ISIS captured several villages in Ghazni province. At least 60 homes were set ablaze, officials said.
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— Fazul Rahim and Mushtaq Yusufzai
Mushtaq Yusufzai reported from Peshawar, Pakistan.