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Afghans: Pakistani Taliban commander rumored dead

Afghans: Pakistani Taliban commander rumored dead

A Pakistani Taliban leader who spearheaded the takeover of Pakistan's Swat Valley three years ago may have been killed in a fierce battle with Afghan forces in remote eastern Afghanistan, officials said Thursday.
Hundreds of militants have been trying since Sunday to seize control of the Barg-e-Matal district of Nuristan province along the Pakistani border, provincial officials said.
Following a strong attack Wednesday night, villagers who took part in the fighting reported that they had killed the Taliban commander, Maulana Fazlullah, along with six of his fighters, according to Gen. Mohammad Zaman Mamozai, commander for Afghan border police in eastern Afghanistan.
Nuristan police Chief Mohammad Qasim said authorities were unable to confirm the death of Fazlullah, who gained prominence in 2007 as the "Radio Mullah" for his vehemently anti-Western sermons on local radio stations in the Swat Valley. The former mountain resort area fell under Taliban control until Pakistani forces drove them out last year.
In Pakistan, Maulana Faqir Mohammed, the Taliban chief in the Bajur area, told The Associated Press by phone that Fazlullah had gone to Nuristan with his fighters.
"We are trying to contact him," he said. "We believe that he is safe and he has not been killed."
Another Taliban commander in Bajur, Asad Ullah, insisted that Fazlullah was alive.
"Maulana Fazlullah was the guest of Taliban in Nuristan, and we don't think he can be killed so easily," he said.
The Afghan Interior Ministry said one police officer had also been killed so far in the Nuristan fighting, which continued Thursday. Officials said about 500 Pakistani Taliban were involved in the siege.
Provincial police spokesman Farooq Khan said government forces were running short of food and ammunition after nearly a week of fighting. NATO helicopters have flown in some weapons and ammunition but more is needed, he said. It takes two days by donkey to reach the site of the fighting by the only road that is still open, he added.
The insurgents first attacked the district government building on Sunday. Provincial police chief Gen. Mohammad Qasim Jangulbagh said local residents joined the fight against the Taliban because they heard Fazlullah had issued a fatwa, or religious command, to kill those who supported the government.
Nuristan is a rugged, mountainous province whose people have a reputation for fierce resistance to outsiders.
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 American soldiers. Keating, already scheduled to be closed when the attack occurred, was abandoned soon after.
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Associated Press writers Habib Khan in Bajur, Pakistan, Munir Ahmed in Islamabad and Heidi Vogt in Kabul contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-04-12 05:21 GMT+08:00