KABUL - NATO said Tuesday that Al-Qaeda's second in command in Afghanistan had been killed in an air strike near the Pakistani border.
The US-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan said Saudi-born Sakhr al-Taifi, also known as Mushtaq and Nasim, commanded foreign fighters and directed attacks on Nato and Afghan troops.
It described him as Al-Qaeda's "second highest leader in Afghanistan", saying he frequently travelled between Afghanistan and Pakistan, "carrying out commands from senior Al-Qaeda leadership". He also supplied weapons and equipment to insurgents, and managed the transport of insurgent fighters into Afghanistan, the military said.
NATO said he was killed in an air strike on Sunday with "one additional Al-Qaeda terrorist in Watahpur district, Kunar province" which borders Pakistan. The United States announced last year that it would focus military operations in Afghanistan towards the eastern provinces, which border Pakistan's tribal belt where US officials say Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked militants have sanctuary. NATO forces are in Afghanistan helping the Western-backed government fight a bloody, Taliban-led insurgency following the US-led invasion shortly after the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.
There are around 130,000 international troops in Afghanistan and all NATO-led combat forces are due to leave by the end of 2014. Al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden was shot dead in a US special forces raid in the Pakistani town of Abbottabad on May 2, 2011. According to a bin Laden letter released by the Combating Terrorism Centre at West Point in the United States, he recommended that Al-Qaeda fighters head to Kunar to escape US drone strikes concentrated in the Pakistani tribal district of Waziristan. He said Kunar was fortified "due to its rougher terrain and the many mountains, rivers, and trees and it can accommodate hundreds of the brothers without being spotted by the enemy," according to one of the letters released by West Point.
Meanwhile, militants have stepped up attacks in the area thought to be Afghanistan’s safest, rugged central Bamiyan province, moving into the region in a bid to undermine security ahead of the end-2014 exit from the country of most foreign combat troops.
Around 20 Taliban fighters from neighbouring Baghlan province have crossed into Bamiyan and launched attacks in several districts, Bamiyan Police Chief General Juma Guldi Yardem told Reuters on Tuesday, prompting the government to promise extra officers and weapons. “They usually plant roadside bombs, lead attacks on security checkpoints and some have even launched suicide attacks on some government offices,” Yardem said.
Bamiyan was a focus of world attention in March 2001 when Afghanistan’s former Taliban government destroyed two colossal sandstone Buddhas carved into cliffs, targeting the 1,700 year-old statues with tank and anti-aircraft guns, as well as dynamite, because they were un-Islamic.
The province, where most people belong to the Hazara ethnic group, opposed to the Pashtun-dominated Taliban, is located in the Hindu Kush mountains around 240 km (150 miles) northwest of Kabul, and had been thought to be one of the country’s safest areas.