Officials in Afghanistan confirmed Wednesday an American drone strike has killed a key militant commander wanted in neighboring Pakistan for terrorism.
Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammad Radmanish told VOA the attack occurred Tuesday in the volatile Kunar province next to the border with Pakistan. He would not immediately identify the slain militant linked to the outlawed Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), commonly known as the Pakistani Taliban.
Local media reported missiles fired from an unmanned aircraft, known as a drone, struck a compound where fugitive TTP members were attending a meeting. Omar Rehman, known as Ustad Fateh, who is said to be the TTP's operational commander, reportedly was among those killed.
"The United States unrelentingly continues its counterterrorism efforts against IS-K , al-Qaida, and other regional and international terrorist groups," a U.S. military spokesman told VOA when asked for a confirmation of the attack.
Army Lt. Col. Martin O'Donnell used IS-K in reference to the Afghan branch of Islamic State, known as Khorasan Province.
TTP spokespeople were not immediately available for their reaction to the attack or to confirm whether it killed Rehman, also a bomb-making expert.
Tuesday's attack came nearly three weeks after a U.S. drone strike in the same Afghan province killed the TTP chief, Mullah Fazlullah, along with his four key commanders.
Rehman also was in line as possible replacement for the slain Fazlullah, but the TTP leadership council elected Mufti Nor Wali, known as Abu Mansoor Asim, as its new chief.
The TTP is blamed for killing tens of thousands of Pakistanis, including security forces, in suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks over the past decade.
Pakistan says leaders and fighters of the terrorist group have taken refuge in "ungoverned spaces" in Afghanistan after fleeing counterterrorism operations against their strong holds on Pakistan's side of the border.
The militants, Pakistani officials say, use their Afghan sanctuaries to plot terrorist cross-border attacks against the country. U.S. military commanders say a majority of TTP members have filled IS-Kranks after arriving in Afghanistan, and they are mostly active in three eastern Afghan provinces, including Kunar.
The killing of Fazlullah and the latest drone strike are likely to increase pressure on Islamabad to push members of the Afghan Taliban, allegedly sheltering on Pakistani soil, to join peace talks with the Kabul government and find a negotiated end to the war in Afghanistan.
The Pakistan military, which is accused of covertly supporting the insurgency, insists its influence with the Taliban has receded over the years and sustained security operations have pushed Taliban insurgents to go back to the Afghan side of the border.
Kabul and Washington maintain the Taliban leadership still resides in the neighboring country, however, and they both want Pakistan to deliver the insurgents to the negotiating table, say analysts.