Pentagon confirms deaths of top al Qaeda, Taliban leaders

Pentagon confirms deaths of top al Qaeda, Taliban leaders
© Getty Images

Joint U.S. and Afghan operations in recent days have killed top leaders for al Qaeda and the Taliban, U.S. Forces-Afghanistan (USFOR-A) confirmed Tuesday.

Omar Khetab, al Qaeda’s No. 2 in the Indian subcontinent, was killed Monday, while Mullah Shah Wali, commander of the Taliban’s special forces branch, was killed Friday, according to a Tuesday news release.

“These two operations together would never have been possible without the close cooperation between Afghan forces and USFOR-A, and they are proof our strategy is working,” Gen. John Nicholson, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, said in a statement. "The entire international community agrees Afghanistan deserves security and lasting peace.”

The statement comes after the Afghan National Directorate of Security earlier Tuesday said Khetab and about 80 members of al Qaeda were killed in operations in the southern province of Zabul and the eastern provinces of Ghazni and Paktia.

Tuesday’s U.S. statement likewise says that “multiple other al-Qaeda operatives” were killed alongside Khetab in operations in those three provinces. It does not specify in which province Khetab was killed.

Khetab was described in the release as being “directly involved” in fighting against the Afghan government and foreign troops, advising militants in the use of heavy weapons such as rockets and mortars and training for Taliban night attacks.

"This operation is a testament to the real growth the Afghan forces have achieved over the past year,” Nicholson said. "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.”

The Afghan intelligence service also said earlier that Wali was killed in Helmand province.

Tuesday’s statement said Wali was killed in a strike in Musa Qalah, alongside one of his deputy commanders and three other insurgents.

U.S. Forces Afghanistan released video Tuesday of a strike on a car it said was the strike that killed Wali.

Wali was the commander of the Taliban’s so-called “Red Unit,” where he planned suicide bombings, improvised explosive device attacks and coordinated assaults, according to the release. He was also “directly responsible” for coordinating operations and resupply of munitions, explosives and materials for the Taliban throughout Helmand province, where the Taliban cultivates poppy and produces opium, the release added.

"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."