KABUL, Afghanistan, (AP) – Afghan officials said Thursday they were investigating reports that a leader of the Pakistani Taliban may have been killed in fighting in the remote mountains of eastern Afghanistan.
About 400 Afghan police supported by village militias have been trying to fend off an attack by hundreds of insurgents in eastern Nuristan province for five days, provincial police spokesman Farooq Khan said.
On Thursday, the militants made a push to capture all of Barg-e-Matal district on the Pakistan border, sparking heavy fighting throughout the area.
“This morning we have unconfirmed reports that Maulana Fazlullah was killed” in the overnight fighting, Khan said.
Fazlullah, nicknamed the “Radio Mullah” for his hard-line anti-Western broadcasts on a militant radio station in northwestern Pakistan, was the Taliban commander in the Swat Valley until the Pakistan military routed the group from the area last year.
Khan said heavy fighting continued Thursday and government forces were running short of food and ammunition. NATO helicopters have flown in some weapons and ammunition but more is needed, Khan said. It takes two days by donkey to reach the site of the fight through the one road that is open, he added.
At least seven militants and one police officer have died so far in the fighting, according to the Interior Ministry.
In Pakistan, Maulana Faqir Mohammed, the Taliban chief in the Bajur area, told The Associated Press by phone that they were unable to confirm the death of Fazlullah, but he acknowledged that he had gone to Nuristan with his fighters.
“We are trying to contact him,” he said, adding “we believe that he is safe and he has not been killed.”
Another Taliban commander in Bajur, Asad Ullah, insisted that Fazlullah was safe.
“Maulana Fazlullah was the guest of Taliban in Nuristan, and we don’t think he can be killed so easily,” he said.
The insurgents first attacked the district government building on Sunday.
Last summer, insurgents overran the main town in the district, and were pushed out only after an offensive by U.S. troops. U.S. forces have closed a number of bases in the area as part of NATO’s new strategy to consolidate forces around population centers.
A base to the south of Barg-e-Matal, Combat Outpost Keating, was the site of a massive attack in October 2009 in which insurgents breached the base’s defenses and killed eight soldiers. Keating, already scheduled to be closed when the attack occurred, was abandoned soon after.