A senior Al Qaeda leader on the Indian subcontinent and the head of the Taliban’s “special forces” in southern Helmand have been killed in recent days in Afghanistan, Afghan and U.S. forces said on Tuesday.
“Both leaders are responsible for the deaths of many innocent Afghans, and their removal will both disrupt the terrorist operations of their respective organizations and improve overall security of the country,” the U.S. command said in a statement.
According to Afghan intelligence services, and a spokesman for U.S. forces in Kabul, “Omar Khetab, number two in the Al Qaeda network for the Indian subcontinent” was killed on Monday. “He was directly involved in fighting against the Afghan government and foreign troops and had a role in advising in the use of heavy weapons such as rockets, mortars and training for Taliban night attacks,” the U.S. command’s statement added. “This operation is a testament to the real growth the Afghan forces have achieved over the past year,” said General John Nicholson, commander of U.S. forces and Operation Resolute Support NATO, quoted in the statement.
The U.S. also announced the death of the leader of the “Red Unit”—the Taliban’s “special forces” in Helmand, a southern province where insurgents control 10 of its 14 districts. “Mullah Shah Wali, aka Haji Nasir, commander of the Red Unit in Helmand, was killed on Dec. 1 by a strike, with one of his deputies and three of his men.”
According to the spokesman, “Wali and his ‘Red Unit’ are responsible for planning numerous suicide bombings, IED attacks, and coordinated assaults against civilians, Afghan and coalition forces.” The statement noted: “The Taliban in Helmand province are responsible for poppy cultivation and opium trade that funds their activities.”
At the end of November, the Americans began a series of raids against heroin laboratories in Helmand. U.S. Forces began identifying drug labs to hit after President Donald Trump’s strategy announcement in August made it easier for American air power to proactively target the Taliban and its sources of revenue and infrastructure.
The U.S.-Afghan operation comes as around 3,000 additional American troops promised by Trump are deployed to help train and assist beleaguered Afghan security forces, who have been struggling to beat back Taliban and Islamic State insurgents.