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US drone strike kills Pakistani Taliban chief, officials say

Mullah Maulana Fazlullah (Salimswati/WikiMedia)

Pentagon officials say a U.S. drone has targeted the leader of the Pakistani Taliban in an Afghan province near the border with Pakistan, and security sources as well as an Afghan official say he was killed.

U.S. military officials told media late on June 14 that the strike targeted Mullah Maulana Fazlullah, the chief of Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan or TTP, a “designated terrorist organization,” in a drone operation on June 13 in Kunar province, close to the border.

The U.S. officials who spoke anonymously to the media said Fazlullah’s status was unclear or declined to say whether the operation was successful. Local reports on June 14 said he was killed.

But a spokesman for the Afghan Defense Ministry and Pakistani intelligence officials told RFE/RL on June 15 that Fazlullah was killed in the strike.

Afghan Defense Ministry sprokesman Mohammad Radmanish said Fazlullah and several other insurgents were killed in the “joint air operation” carried out in the border area of Marawera district of Kunar provinces early on June 14.

The source of Radmanish’s statement wasn’t immediately clear.

The Pakistani intelligence sources, who spoke to RFE/RL on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the record, confirmed Fazlullah’s death but did not provide details.

According to a statement attributed to U.S. Forces-Afghanistan spokesman, Martin O’Donnell, the U.S. carried out a “counterterrorism strike” on June 14 near the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan targeting “a senior leader of a designated terrorist organization.”

The statement did not say whether the strike had killed anyone and did not identify Fazlullah as the target, but added that U.S. forces were continuing to “adhere to a cease-fire” which Afghanistan has agreed with the Afghan Taliban, apparently ruling out any targets from that group.

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 a major offensive by the Pakistani military against the organization.

Although the group still stages attacks in Pakistan, it is believed to have lost control of all territory in the South Asian country since its massacre of 150 people at an army school in Peshawar in December 2014 prompted the all-out government campaign against the group.

Fazlullah is believed to have directed the attack in Peshawar. The TPP was also deemed responsible for the October 2012 shooting of Malala Yousafzai, who later won the Nobel Prize and became a global symbol of the fight for the education of girls.

The United States has also accused the group of attempting to stage a car bomb attack in Times Square in New York in 2010.

In March, the United States offered a $5-million reward for information on Fazlullah, saying his group “demonstrated a close alliance with Al-Qaeda” and gave explosives training to Faisal Shahzad, the would-be Times Square bomber.

The drone strike targeting Fazlullah comes amid a cease-fire between the Afghan Taliban and Kabul government forces to mark the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and Voice of America

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.