IS leader al-Baghdadi admits group in retreat as losses mount worldwide
KABUL -- Days after "Islamic State" (IS) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi emerged from obscurity and admitted his group was in retreat, Afghan and coalition forces killed the leader of the IS branch in Afghanistan.
In a 55-minute message broadcast Wednesday (August 22) by IS's media operations, al-Baghdadi acknowledged how IS is reeling following its military setbacks in the Middle East.
While he called on his followers not to abandon their "religion, patience or jihad", in what appears to be a indication of the group's defeat on the ground, al-Baghdadi declared that "the scale of victory or defeat for the mujahideen is not dependent on a city or town being stolen or subject to those who have aerial superiority".
Al-Baghdadi also touched upon the lack of discipline bubbling up among the group's remnants and warned his deputies to watch for signs of rebellion among their men. He urged IS members of different nationalities, regions and ethnicities to refrain from infighting and feuding.
Al-Baghdadi would not have cited those problems if they were not prevalent, say observers, who note that the spectre of defeat was bound to trigger a wave of disobedience, especially on whether to continue fighting.
Since al-Baghdadi declared the creation of the so-called "caliphate" in 2014, IS has lost 95% of its territory in Iraq and Syria and has been reduced to a few small pockets of mostly uninhabited area in Syria.
The new recording comes almost a year after its most recent predecessor.
Reports suggest al-Baghdadi is injured, and authorities say the noose is closing around the jihadist leader after Iraqi forces captured five top IS commanders in Syria March 24.
Another Afghan IS leader killed
Meanwhile in Afghanistan, IS suffered yet another setback in a series of blows.
The leader of IS's Khorasan branch (IS-K), Abu Saad Arhabi, also identified as Abu Sayed Orakzai, was killed in a joint Afghan-coalition air strike late Saturday (August 25) in Khogyani District, Nangarhar Province, according to the National Directorate of Security (NDS).
"The Emir of Daesh in Afghanistan along with 10 others was killed," said a statement by NDS, calling the group by its Arabic acronym.
Arhabi is the fourth leader of IS-K to be killed since the group first emerged in the country around 2014.
The spokesman for US forces in Afghanistan, Lt. Col. Martin O'Donnell, confirmed they had conducted an air strike in the location described by Afghan officials, which "targeted a senior leader of a designated terrorist organisation".
Hours before the raid, the group claimed responsibility for a deadly suicide attack that appeared to target a sit-in protest outside the provincial election commission office in Jalalabad. The bombing reportedly killed two Afghans and wounded four, according to Afghan officials.
The Jalalabad bombing followed a number of bloody attacks claimed by IS in recent weeks, including assaults on several government installations in Kabul and a bombing at a school that killed at least 37 people.
Despite committing numerous terrorist acts, the group is on the run and has suffered repeated setbacks in the past year during a bloody turf war with the Taliban.
Early this month, more than 150 IS fighters surrendered en masse to Afghan forces in Jawzjan, a move that Afghan forces hailed as the end of the group's foothold in the north of the country.
This IS capitulation comes after weeks of intense fighting with the Taliban in Jawzjan that reportedly killed more than 300 militants from both sides.
Arhabi succeeded Abu Sayed, who was killed in a US air strike on July 11 in Kunar Province, only months after his own predecessor, Abdul Hasib, was killed in Nangarhar.
[Khalid Zerai from Nangarhar contributed to this report.]