4 commanders also die in US-Afghan operation
Afghan Ministry of Defense spokesperson on Friday confirmed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan leader Mullah Fazlullah, who led the TTP from 2013, was killed in a US drone strike in Afghanistan’s northeastern Kunar province on Wednesday.
The Afghan Ministry of Defense spokesperson, Mohammad Radmanish, told CNN that Mullah Fazlullah was among the dead. “I can confirm that the TTP leader Fazlullah was killed in a joint Afghan and US operation in Kunar on Thursday,” Mohammad Radmanish said.
A report said that other commanders of the TTP killed in the drone strike include Abu Bakr, Sajjad, Emran and Mawlawi Omar.
US forces had conducted the strike close to the border of Pakistan and targeted a “senior leader of a designated terrorist organisation,” Lt-Col Martin O’Donnell, a spokesman for the US forces in Afghanistan, had said a day earlier. O’Donnell, however, did not specify that Fazullah was the target.
Sources within the group told Arab News that a US drone strike has killed Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan chief Mulla Fazalullah in Afghanistan’s eastern Kunar province.
“Fazalullah died along with other commanders,” a TTP source said, adding that the group will issue an official statement in the next 24 hours.
A Pakistani intelligence report obtained by Arab News on Friday said a drone strike had been carried out on a car carrying Fazalullah in the Marorah area of Kunar after he had attended an iftar.
Fazalullah, who escaped after the Pakistani military carried out a major counterterror operation in the northwestern Swat valley in 2009, had regrouped his fighters in the border region of Afghanistan, according to security officials.
Fazalullah’s son Abdullah,17, and 20 other militants were killed in a US drone strike in Kunar, reports said.
Fazalullah’s deputy, Noor Wali Mehsud, is most likely to succeed him, said the TTP source. Mehsud, 40, was made deputy after the killing of Khalid Sajna in a drone strike, and was the TTP’s Karachi chief from June 2013 until May 2015.
Mehsud is author of the book “Inqilab-e-Mehsud,” in which he claimed to have assassinated former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.
A US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to the Voice of America, said the strike late Wednesday targeted Mullah Fazlullah, the chief of the banned Taliban outfit that has waged a decade-long insurgency in the South Asian nation.
Mullah Fazlullah was named TTP chief after the death of Hakimullah Mehsud in a drone strike in November 2013. Fazlullah, notorious for attacks on APS and Malala, was the region’s most-wanted militant.
In March, the United States offered a $5 million reward for information on Fazlullah.
Fazlullah emerged as the leader of the Taliban in the Swat Valley, northwest of Islamabad, more than a decade ago. He was known as “Mullah Radio” for his fiery sermons broadcast over a radio channel.
Although Taliban extremists still unleash attacks, the group has lost control of all territory in Pakistan since its December 2014 attack on the army school.
The strike that killed Fazlullah comes amid a ceasefire between the Afghan Taliban and government security forces to mark the end of the holy month of Ramazan.
General John Nicholson, the commander of the US Forces Afghanistan and the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission, said earlier the US would adhere to the ceasefire announced by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, which did not include US counter-terrorism operations against other terror groups.
“As previously stated, the ceasefire does not include US counter-terrorism efforts against [Daesh], Al-Qaida, and other regional and international terrorist groups, or the inherent right of US and international forces to defend ourselves if attacked,” he had said.
The U.S.military said in Washington on Thursday it had carried out a strike aimed at a senior militant figure in Kunar province and one U.S. official said the target was believed to be Fazlullah.
If he were confirmed killed by the United States, it could ease strained ties between Islamabad and Washington even as Afghanistan observes an unprecedented three-day ceasefire with the Afghan Taliban.
A member of the Pakistani Taliban told Reuters by telephone on Friday the group was trying to get word from Afghanistan, where most of the Pakistani Taliban fighters are now based.
“We have been hearing since early Friday that our Emir (leader) was martyred along with four other militant commanders in Marawar area of Kunar. They were staying at a house when the drone fired missiles and martyred them,” said Taliban member Maulvi Abdur Rasheed.
“Since then we are making all-out efforts to check if it´s true, but most of our senior colleagues are out of access.
Meanwhile, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Friday said the Taliban is honoring its three-day cease-fire that began Thursday night in response to his truce. He expressed hope for its extension.
Ghani said he had spoken overnight with Saudi King Salman, who pledged his “full support for the truce and peace” in Afghanistan. “This is the first cease-fire in the contemporary history of Afghanistan, and I want to congratulate the people for that,” Ghani added, saying he welcomes any step that leads to the end of bloodshed in the country.—Agencies