Key Pakistani Taliban figure killed in Afghanistan

Associated Press

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A NATO airstrike in eastern Afghanistan killed a senior commander of the Pakistani Taliban who had close ties with al-Qaida, dealing a blow to the militants who operate on both sides of the countries' porous border.

Mullah Dadullah was killed Friday in Afghanistan's eastern Kunar province, which lies just across the border from the Pakistani tribal area of Bajur, the military alliance said. He was the Pakistani Taliban leader in Bajur, and NATO said Saturday that Dadullah also was responsible for the movement of fighters and weapons across the frontier as well as attacks against Afghan and coalition forces in Afghanistan.

Eleven other militants were also killed in the airstrike in Kunar's Shigal district, about 15 kilometers (9 miles) from the Pakistani border, including Dadullah's deputy, identified only as Shakir, the coalition said.

Dadullah's death will be a blow for the Taliban in Bajur, where the Pakistani military launched an offensive against militants in 2010, because he was an experienced commander and close to al-Qaida, said Mansur Mahsud, an Islamabad-based expert on Pakistani militants. But he said it's unlikely to have much of an impact on the broader Pakistani Taliban movement that operates in the rest the country's rugged, lawless tribal region along the Afghan border.

"He wasn't that senior in the group, and he wasn't that influential in the six other tribal agencies outside Bajur," Mahsud said.

Still, the killing of a foe of the Pakistani government is likely to be well received in Islamabad at a time when Pakistan's military is said to be preparing an offensive in North Waziristan, the base of the powerful Haqqani network that has been behind a string of high-profile attacks on Western targets in Kabul.

The militant hideouts along the Afghan-Pakistan border have long been a source of tension for Kabul, Islamabad and the international coalition, and Dadullah's killing could help ease the pressure that has built up.

Several times this summer, Afghan officials have said Pakistani shells have landed on Afghan territory, sometimes killing civilians. Pakistani officials have said their forces have been responding to cross-border attacks by militants from Afghanistan.

Islamabad has long demanded that NATO and Afghan forces crack down on Pakistani militants launching attacks from hideouts on the Afghan side of the border. At the same time, American military commanders have been pressuring Islamabad to launch military strikes on the Haqqani network in North Waziristan.

Gen. John R. Allen, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, said Dadullah posed a danger "to coalition, Afghan and Pakistani forces, to innocent civilians on both sides of the border," and said his death would help cooperation between the U.S.-led coalition and Pakistan.

"We also have long believed that close cooperation with our Pakistani partners is critical in combating the menace of terrorism, and dealing with this target furthers that objective as well," Allen said in a statement.

NATO would not say whether an unmanned drone or manned aircraft had carried out the strike.

A Pakistani Taliban spokesman, Ahsanullah Ahsan, said it was a drone that killed Dadullah. He said Maulana Abu Bakar was named the new Taliban chief of Bajur.

Dadullah became Bajur's Pakistani Taliban chief early this year after the Taliban removed his predecessor to punish him for holding unauthorized peace talks with Islamabad, Pakistani intelligence officials said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.

Dadullah, who real name was Sayed Jamal, was a shop owner in Bajur before joining the Pakistani Taliban in 2008, and he was believed to be in his mid-30s or 40s, they said. He worked with al-Qaida prior to that and maintained close ties to the group.

As head of the Taliban's religious police unit in Bajur, he enforced a strict interpretation of Islam, and closed shops that sold CDs — music is deemed heretical — to close, according to the intelligence officials. Shop owners who refused were punished and their stores were bombed.

The Pakistani Taliban, one of many loosely allied extremist groups that operate in Pakistan's tribal region, wants to impose the same kind of hardline interpretation of Islamic law as the Afghan Taliban that ruled Afghanistan until the 2001 U.S.-led invasion ousted the hardline regime for sheltering al-Qaida's leaders. But the Pakistani branch primarily focuses its attacks on the Pakistani state, not international troops in neighboring Afghanistan.

The Pakistani intelligence officials said Friday's coalition airstrike occurred after a cross-border attack by Pakistani Taliban militants who came from Afghanistan. The Pakistani intelligence officials said the militiamen and army soldiers fought the militants for hours but eventually repelled the attack.

A Kunar provincial government spokesman, Wasifullah Wasifi, said four wounded Pakistani citizens have been hospitalized in Kunar and will be questioned about the activities of the Pakistani Taliban inside Afghan territory.

"We are trying to find out how long these people have been here and why they were here," Wasifi said.

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Anwarullah Khan in Khar, Pakistan; Rahim Faiez in Kabul and Sebastian Abbot and Rebecca Santana in Islamabad contributed to this report.

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