KANDAHAR  - Afghan forces have killed a militant commander suspected of having links to the Islamic State group in an airstrike, officials said Monday.

Hafiz Waheed, a successor to Abdul Rauf Khadim who died in a US drone strike last month, was killed along with nine others in the Sangin district of Helmand province late on Sunday, according to a defence ministry statement.

“All the militants were associated with Islamic State group,” the statement said, adding that six others were wounded in the strike. Nato forces, who remain in the country in a limited training mission, were not involved in the operation, a spokesman said.

Zamen Ali, a senior Afghan army officer in southern Afghanistan, told AFP that Waheed took over the anti-government militia, Khadim had commanded, following his death on February 9.

Khadim, Waheed’s uncle, was a former Taliban commander and Guantanamo detainee who allegedly changed his allegiance to IS, raising fears the militant group was seeking to expand its operations in Afghanistan following the end of Nato forces’ 13-year combat mission at the end of 2014. But IS has never acknowledged having representatives in Afghanistan, and a senior Taliban commander told AFP on condition of anonymity that Khadim had “not formally joined IS and IS had not recognised him”.

Rasol Zazai, an army spokesman in Helmand province told AFP that Waheed’s followers were active in several areas of Sangin district, where the military began an operation in February.

Afghan security officials have launched a major operation against insurgents in Helmand designed to weaken the Taliban before the start of the so-called “fighting season”. Defense ministry spokesman Dawlat Waziri said the militants were all associated with the Islamic State, known in Afghanistan as ‘Daesh’.

Reports of Taliban fighters switching sides to IS in recent months have raised concerns in war-weary Afghanistan, though there is little evidence of any operational ties between the fighters and the group’s leadership. People fear the emergence of the IS group could heighten sectarian tensions in Afghanistan.

The Afghan army has been leading operations in Helmand since February to clear the restive southern province of Taliban fighters ahead of the so-called fighting season that kicks off each spring.

Fifty-eight armed Taliban members were killed by Afghan security forces across the country on Sunday, a Ministry of Interior statement said.