Key Pakistani Taliban figure killed in Afghanistan
KABUL, Afghanistan • A NATO airstrike in eastern Afghanistan killed a dozen militants including a senior leader of the Taliban in Pakistan, the international military coalition said Saturday, dealing a blow to armed extremists operating on both sides of the countries' porous border.
The strike in Afghanistan's eastern Kunar province killed Mullah Dadullah, the self-proclaimed Taliban leader in Pakistan's Bajur tribal area that lies across the border, late Friday afternoon, coalition spokesman Maj. Martyn Crighton said.
Dadullah reportedly took over after Bajur's former Pakistani Taliban leader, Maulvi Faqir Mohammed, fled to Afghanistan to avoid Pakistani army operations.
He was responsible for the movement of fighters and weapons, as well as attacks against Afghan and coalition forces, a coalition statement said Saturday. It added that Dadullah's deputy, identified only as Shakir, was also killed in the strike along with 10 other militants, and that an assessment made in conjunction with Afghan security forces determined no civilians had been killed or injured.
The airstrike was in Kunar's Shigal district, which lies about 15 kilometers (about nine miles) from the Pakistani border, but Crighton would not say whether an unmanned drone or manned aircraft had launched the missiles.
A spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, Ahsanullah Ahsan, said Dadullah was killed in a drone strike in Kunar. He said Maulana Abu Bakar has been named as the new chief of the Bajur region.
Pakistani intelligence officials said Dadullah and 19 others were killed in the attack. Initially, they said the strike was on Pakistani territory, but later they conceded it was in Afghanistan.
Militant hideouts along the Afghan-Pakistan border have been a source of tension for both governments as well as for the coalition, with each saying the others are not doing enough to expel the various pro-Taliban factions.
The Pakistani intelligence officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media, 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.
Jahangir Azam Khattak, a local Pakistani government official, said dozens of militants attacked a Pakistani post manned by anti-Taliban militiamen in the Salarzai area of Bajur. He said six militants were killed and four tribesmen were wounded.
However, Crighton said there was no coordination between Pakistani and coalition military leaders on the airstrike.
"This was an independent operation and not associated with any others," he said.
Taliban-affiliated militants operate on both sides of the porous border, with various groups targeting both coalition forces in Afghanistan and the Pakistani military.
Pakistan has complained of cross-border attacks by militants hiding out in eastern Afghanistan and has criticized Afghan and U.S.-led coalition forces for not doing enough to stop them or expel them from Afghan territory.
The U.S. and Afghanistan, however, have long criticized Pakistan for its failure to prevent militants from carrying out attacks in the opposite direction.
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 Taliban inside Afghan territory.
"They were exactly where this incident happened yesterday, so I am sure they were with these who were killed," Wasifi said. He added, "We are trying to find out how long these people have been here and why they were here."
Rahim Faiez in Kabul and Zarrar Khan and Rebecca Santana in Islamabad contributed to this report.