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Pakistani Taliban Confirm Killing of Wanted Senior Commander in Afghanistan

Afghanistan and Pakistan
Afghanistan and Pakistan

An outlawed militant alliance fighting the government of Pakistan confirmed Thursday that one of its top commanders was killed in neighboring Afghanistan earlier in the week.

The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, known as the Pakistani Taliban or TTP, in a statement identified the dead man as Khalid Balti, saying he was killed on Sunday while traveling. The TTP paid tribute to Balti’s contributions to the group and vowed to avenge his killing soon; but it did not say who was responsible. No group has claimed responsibility.

The confirmation comes after Pakistani security officials disclosed on Monday that Balti had died in Afghanistan’s eastern border province of Nangarhar, saying they were in the process of gathering more information about the circumstances.

In Islamabad, a government official who asked not to be named said that in 2014, Balti went on the run after fleeing a Pakistani counter-terrorism military operation against TTP bases in border districts and taking refuge on the Afghan side.

“He was planning terrorist activities in Pakistan and was working for unification of all TTP (breakaway) factions,” the official said. He added Balti had planned several attacks against Pakistani security officials and civilians “in close liaison with the TTP chief Noor Wali Mehsud.”

An Afghan Taliban government spokesman rejected reports the TTP commander was killed on the Afghan side of the border. Bilal Karimi told VOA that “nothing like that happened nor are any foreign nationals here.”

Pakistan launched major ground and air counterterrorism offensives in 2014 in volatile districts next to the Afghan border, killing thousands of TTP militants and forcing others to take shelter in Afghanistan, where U.S-led foreign troops were battling the Afghan Taliban in support of the Western-backed government in Kabul at the time.

U.S. counterterrorism drone operations also killed many key TTP commanders along with others.

Afghan security forces arrested Balti in 2015. He and other inmates were released when the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan in August 2021. TTP in its statement Thursday said that Balti was arrested in early 2015 and remained in custody until the end of 2021. It didn’t elaborate.

The Taliban government in Afghanistan later mediated and brokered a 30-day cease-fire between Pakistan and TTP in a move aimed at laying the groundwork for substantive peace talks.

The truce expired in early December without any progress in the peace process and the militants resumed attacks in Pakistan.

Afghan Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi, in a visit to Islamabad in November, confirmed his government had played a central role in arranging the talks. The new Afghan rulers are under pressure from neighboring countries and the global community at large to stop transnational terrorists from using Afghanistan for cross-border attacks