US official: High-level al Qaeda commander killed in Afghanistan

Fourth US service member dies after IED attack in Afghanistan
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Afghan forces, with support from the US, targeted and killed one of the highest-level al Qaeda commanders inside Afghanistan since the 9/11 attacks, according to a US official. Omar bin Khatab, also known as Omar Mansoor, was targeted by Afghan forces Monday in Ghazni province and killed, according to a US official.

Khatab was described by the US official as the second-most important leader of al Qaeda on the Indian Subcontinent and the most senior leader killed in Afghanistan since late 2001. Mohammed Atef, a key deputy for Osama bin Laden, was killed in a US airstrike in Afghanistan in late 2001.

“This operation is a testament to the real growth the Afghan forces have achieved over the past year,” said Gen. John Nicholson, the commander of US Forces in Afghanistan, in a statement. “It is also another example of the lethality of the undefeated Afghan Special Forces and the success of working side by side with our Afghan partners.”

US forces on Friday also killed Mullah Shah Wahli, said to be the head of the so-called Taliban Red Unit. This is a group the US believes is responsible for repeated attacks on Afghan security forces.

“Mullah Shah Wali’s death will disrupt the Taliban network, degrade their narcotics trafficking, and hinder their ability to conduct attacks against Afghan forces,” Nicholson said. “USFOR-A and our Afghan partners will continue to aggressively target Taliban leaders to destroy their drug network, disrupt their communications, and deny them safe haven.”

The US military has substantially increased the number of airstrikes it has conducted in Afghanistan as the air campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria has started to wind down in recent months.

US airstrikes dropped dramatically during the final years of the Obama administration as more restrictive rules governing which enemy forces could be targeted were enacted. The US military was allowed to strike ISIS and al Qaeda, but could only target the Taliban under certain specific circumstances.

President Donald Trump removed these restrictions as part of his new strategy for Afghanistan and the wider region, allowing the US military to target Taliban forces anywhere they were found.

But the number of strikes conducted in Afghanistan during 2017 was still less than 10% the number of strikes conducted in Syria and Iraq as part of the campaign against ISIS.