A former Taliban commander who was believed to be recruiting fighters for the Islamic State militant group was killed in southern Afghanistan, officials said Monday.
Mullah Abdul Rauf, a former prisoner at the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was reported killed in a drone strike, according to local officials in the southern province of Helmand. The Afghan intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security, disputed that account, saying Rauf was killed in an operation by the Afghan army’s special forces.
Police officials in Helmand said that at least five others, including Pakistani nationals, were traveling in a vehicle with Rauf, who is believed to be 34, in the Kajaki district on Monday morning when a drone strike occurred.
Rauf was captured by U.S. forces in Afghanistan in December 2001. He was held at the Guantanamo Bay detention center until 2007, when he was handed over to Afghan authorities, who released him from their custody in 2009.
“At the time, Afghan authorities did not think he was a leading figure within the Taliban, so they let him go,” said Waheed Mujhda, a political analyst who served as an official in Afghanistan’s Taliban government, which was toppled in 2001.
He was also briefly detained by Pakistani forces in 2010 but released, officials said.
That year, Rauf wrote a note justifying the targeting of Afghans, including civilians, who cooperated with U.S.-led international forces battling the Taliban in Afghanistan. He reportedly went on to become the insurgent group’s shadow governor in the southern province of Oruzgan.
According to Guantanamo court documents, Rauf joined the Taliban in 1998 and had contact with Mullah Mohammed Omar, the group’s reclusive leader. But Rauf denied involvement with the movement.
“I’d love to go [to Afghanistan] and help them out with the new government [of Hamid Karzai] and work for them,” Rauf was quoted as saying during an administrative review board hearing at Guantanamo.
Officials in Helmand province recently claimed Rauf was actively recruiting for Islamic State in Sangin, a district where U.S. and Taliban forces engaged in heavy combat.
Borhan Osman, a Kabul-based analyst with the Afghanistan Analysts Network, said Rauf had also been named Islamic State’s deputy governor in Khorasan, a region that Islamic State defines as spanning across Central Asia and into India.
Mujhda said Rauf in recent days had been involved in negotiations between the Taliban and Islamic State, which has declared a caliphate in lands it controls in Iraq and Syria.
Media reports said Rauf joined Islamic State after falling out with Taliban officials over differences that Mujhda said were due to his adherence to the hard-line Salafi school of Islam, which is more prominent in Persian Gulf nations.
The Taliban did not immediately issue a statement on the reports.
Latifi is a special correspondent.