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Top al-Qaida leader killed in Afghanistan

KABUL - Afghanistan's intelligence agency and the U.S. military announced Tuesday that a series of joint U.S.-Afghan operations killed a top leader of the extremist al-Qaida network along with a number of other members.

Omar bin Khatab was the most senior leader killed in Afghanistan since the Taliban was driven from power in late 2001, said an official with the Afghan National Directorate of Security.

The U.S. military command in Afghanistan confirmed Tuesday the death of Khatab and "multiple other" al-Qaida operatives in Afghanistan, saying it had conducted several related operations in the last few weeks in Ghazni, Paktia and Zabul provinces. The Afghan intelligence agency said scores of other al-Qaida members were killed.

U.S. military officials described Khatab as the No. 2 leader of al-Qaida in the Indian Subcontinent, or AQIS. They said he was directly involved in fighting Afghanistan government and foreign troops and a role in advising the Taliban in night attacks using rockets and mortars.

"This operation is a testament to the real growth the Afghan forces have achieved over the past year," said Army Gen. John Nicholson, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan. "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."

Bin Khatab, also known as Omar Mansoor, was killed in air and ground operations in the Gilan district of Ghazni province southwest of the capital, the Afghan intelligence official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the operation publicly. The intelligence agency's statement did not give details on the joint operation or how authorities confirmed Khatab was killed.

In its statement,the agency said that "80 other members" of al-Qaida were killed, including three top figures, in operations in Zabul and Paktia near the border with Pakistan and adjacent to Ghazni province.

The statement added that 27 members of the network were captured.

The Afghan intelligence agency official said Khatab was from the tribal regions in Pakistan and was in his early 40s, but the official did not offer details on how long Khatab was affiliated with al-Qaeda.

Last year, Afghan officials and the U.S. military reported killing of several foreign members of al-Qaida who were living in Afghanistan.

The presence in Afghanistan of al-Qaida and its leader, Osama bin Laden, after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks prompted the United States to intervene militarily, launching airstrikes in the fall of 2001 that helped Afghan resistance forces drive the Taliban out of Kabul.

The U.S. military also announced Tuesday that it had killed the leader of the Taliban's "Red Unit" in Helmand province, Mullah Shah Wali, with a strike on Dec. 1 in the district of Musa Qala. One of Wali's deputy commanders and three other militants also were killed in the strike, U.S. military officials said.

The Taliban Red Unit was responsible for planning numerous suicide bombings and improvised explosive attacks and coordinating assaults against civilians and Afghan and coalition troops. Wali coordinated the resupply of ammunition and explosives for the Taliban throughout Helmand, U.S. military officials said.

"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. He added that the United States and the Afghan government "will continue to aggressively target Taliban leaders to destroy their drug network, disrupt their communications, and deny them safe haven."

Nicholson, speaking in a news conference with Pentagon reporters last week, said that he still saw a degree of collaboration and a "close relationship" between al-Qaida and the Taliban. The Taliban harbored al-Qaida prior to the Sept. 11 attacks when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan.

AQIS still provides the Taliban with specialized training in bombmaking and weapons training, and the United States has continued to hunt its members, Nicholson said.

The general, asked why the United States has not announced the death of any senior al-Qaida or AQIS leaders in recent months, said the military kept that information classified because successful strikes usually lead to more strikes.

"We don't want to give the enemy the advantage of knowing what we know about who we've struck, who we've taken off the battlefield and so forth," he said. "I'm afraid that's the best answer I can give you."

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