The U.S. military said it carried out a strike targeting a senior militant leader in Afghanistan’s eastern Kunar province, where Pakistani Taliban leader Maulana Fazlullah is believed to be hiding.
“U.S. forces conducted a counterterrorism strike, June 13, in Kunar province, close to the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, which targeted a senior leader of a designated terrorist organization,” Lieutenant Colonel Martin O’Donnell said in a statement.
The statement did not name Fazlullah.
Afghanistan’s defense ministry spokesperson said that Fazlullah was among the dead. “I can confirm that the TTP leader Fazlullah was killed in a joint Afghan and U.S. operation in Kunar on Thursday,” Mohammad Radmanesh said, using the group’s Urdu name, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan.
Afghan President Ashraf Gani later confirmed Fazullah’s death.
“I spoke with Prime Minister of Pakistan Nasirul Mulk and Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa and confirmed the death of Mullah Fazlullah. His death is the result of tireless human intel led by Afghan security agencies,” he tweeted.
Tolo News reported on Friday that the drone strike took places in the Marawayra district along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The report pointed out that Fazlullah has been reported killed before. He took over TTP from Hakimullah Mehsud in 2013 when the latter was killed in a drone strike.
There was no official confirmation from Pakistan, but a Pakistani senior security source told AFP that Fazlullah is believed to have been killed.
Tolo reported its sources as saying that other TTP members killed were identified as Abu Bakr, Sajjad, Emran and Mawlawi Omar.
Without access to the area such incidents are difficult to verify.
The U.S. State Department in March announced a $5 million reward for help locating Fazlullah, who has been linked to bloody attacks in Pakistan and the 2010 attempted Times Square car bombing in New York.
It said the group has “demonstrated a close alliance with al-Qaeda” and had given explosives training to Faisal Shahzad, the would-be Times Square bomber.
The group was behind the massacre of more than 150 people at a Peshawar school in December 2014, and nine dead in another attack in December 2017 in the same city.
It was also responsible for the October 2012 shooting of Malala Yousafzai, who became a global symbol of the fight for girls’ rights to schooling.
According to Pakistani officials, Fazlullah, who is believed to be in his forties, took refuge in Afghanistan after the TTP was pushed out of Pakistan following multiple offensives by the military on its safe havens.
The U.S. military statement said that U.S. forces were continuing to “adhere to a ceasefire” which Kabul has entered into with the Afghan Taliban, the country’s main insurgents, seemingly ruling out any targets from that group.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani announced a historic unilateral ceasefire with the Taliban last week, saying the government would pause offensive operations against the group for eight days at the end of Ramadan.
The Taliban announced its own ceasefire two days later, overlapping with the government’s for three days beginning on June 15.
Ghani said Afghan forces would continue to target Islamic State-Khorasan Province and other foreign terrorist groups during the eight-day ceasefire. General John Nicholson, the head of American and NATO Resolute Support forces in Afghanistan, said the U.S. military would also abide by the ceasefire.
This story was updated on June 15 at 1710 GMT to include Ashraf Ghani’s confirmation of Fazullah’s death.
With reporting from AFP