U.S. Drone Strike Kills Leader of Pakistani Taliban, Pakistan Says
Posted June 15, 2018 9:17 a.m. EDT
ISLAMABAD — A U.S. drone strike killed the leader of the Pakistani Taliban in a border region of Afghanistan, Pakistani officials said Thursday.
Pakistani intelligence officials said the group’s leader, Mullah Fazlullah, and four other senior commanders were killed Wednesday in a drone strike in the Afghan province of Kunar, near the Pakistani border. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity, but Fazlullah’s death was later confirmed by the Pakistani Ministry of Defense.
The spokesman for the U.S. military in Afghanistan, Lt. Col. Martin O’Donnell, confirmed that the military had carried out a drone strike Wednesday in Kunar. He said the target was “a senior leader of a designated terrorist organization,” but he did not offer further details or confirm that Fazlullah had been killed.
Fazlullah has been the most-wanted militant in Pakistan for years. His organization has carried out hundreds of attacks against both Pakistani security forces and civilians, including an assault on a school in Peshawar in 2014 that killed 145 people or more, including at least 132 children.
In 2012, a Pakistani Taliban gunman shot Malala Yousufzai, a teenager who had been calling for more educational opportunities for girls. Yousufzai survived and received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014.
In March, the State Department announced a $5 million reward for information leading to the arrest or capture of Fazullah.
The U.S. drone strike came as a long stretch of tension between the United States and Pakistan seemed to be easing.
The Trump administration had been increasing pressure on Pakistan until recently, accusing the country of doing too little to help stop the Afghan Taliban’s long insurgency. But in recent months, officials say, the two countries have been cooperating more in hopes of persuading the Afghan Taliban to join peace talks.
Days before the U.S. drone strike, Pakistan’s army chief, Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, visited Kabul to discuss the Afghan peace process and counterterrorism cooperation.
The Pakistani Taliban have not yet confirmed Fazlullah’s death, which has been incorrectly reported before.
The Pakistani Taliban movement, or Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, is an umbrella organization loosely uniting up to 30 groups of Pakistani militants along the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.
Officially founded in 2007 to attack the Pakistani government and security forces, it waged a campaign of wanton violence across the country for years.
Under increasing pressure from the military, the group began splintering in 2013. Fazlullah took the leadership of the main branch in November of that year, a week after Hakimullah Mehsud, the organization’s previous leader, was killed in a drone strike in the North Waziristan region of Pakistan.
He is also known as Maulana Fazlullah; the honorific maulana refers to a Muslim man revered for his religious learning or piety.
The area where the drone attack is said to have taken place is considered a stronghold of both Pakistani and Afghan Taliban fighters. The groups are separate organizations, but they often overlap in the tribal borderlands between the two countries.
Pakistani officials have been critical of U.S. drone strikes on Pakistani soil, arguing that they are a violation of the country’s sovereignty.