KABUL, Afghanistan, (AP) – NATO said Wednesday it has confirmed that a senior al-Qaeda commander who led attacks along the Pakistan border and several other militants were killed in an air strike over the weekend in eastern Afghanistan.
NATO said the strike killed Abdallah Umar al-Qurayshi, a senior al-Qaeda commander who coordinated the attacks of a group of Arab fighters in eastern Kunar province, which borders Pakistan, and elsewhere.
It said Abu Atta al Kuwaiti, an al-Qaeda explosives expert, and several Arab foreign fighters were also killed in the strike, which was carried out Saturday.
Pakistan is investigating reports a CIA missile strike killed another senior al-Qaeda commander as he traveled in a tribal region near the Afghan border, security officials said Wednesday. Sheikh Fateh al-Masri’s death would be the covert U.S. missile program’s latest blow to Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network.
Al-Masri is believed to have replaced Mustafa al-Yazid, who was killed in a missile strike in May and was described by the group as its No. 3 commander.
The United States is believed to have launched 21 missiles into northwestern Pakistan this month, more than double the number fired in any previous month. Some of the strikes were aimed at disrupting suspected terrorist plots aimed at Europe, a Western counterterrorism official said Tuesday.
But, concerned by manned aircraft strikes, security officials said Pakistan has told NATO leaders it will stop protecting U.S. and NATO supply lines to Afghanistan if foreign aircraft stage further cross-border attacks against fleeing militants.
The threat was seen as mostly aimed at tamping down criticism inside Pakistan, where anti-American sentiment runs high and where conspiracy theories that the U.S. Army is poised to invade the nation from bases in Afghanistan are rampant.
But it was also a sign of Pakistani unease at the attacks on Saturday and Monday by NATO aircraft against militants in its northwest tribal areas that killed more than 70 militants, and a reminder of the leverage the country has in its complicated alliance with Washington.
Also Wednesday, NATO said a coalition service member was killed in an insurgent attack in southern Afghanistan. The coalition is currently conducting operation “Dragon Strike” to flush out militants moved forward in the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar.
The service member was killed in a fight with insurgents in the south on Tuesday, the coalition said without giving further details. NATO generally does not announce the nationalities of troops killed until after next of kin have been contacted by the service member’s country.
This year is already the deadliest of the nine-year war, with 536 killed as of Wednesday. There are about 140,000 international forces in Afghanistan.
Southern Afghanistan remains highly volatile. Operation Dragon Strike has so far flushed militants out of Arghandab district, Afghan army Lt. Col. Nabeullah Khan said. It has also cleared the area of mines, a major concern for residents, he said.
NATO said Wednesday that it had detained several insurgents suspected of making bombs, and was searching for a Taliban leader believed to have led attacks on coalition forces in the area.