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Pakistan Taliban chief Mullah Fazlullah 'killed in drone attack'

Afghan defence ministry says Mullah Fazlullah, leader of the Taliban, died in attack in northeastern Kunar.

Mullah Fazlullah

The leader of Pakistan's Taliban armed group has been killed in neighbouring Afghanistan's Kunar province, the Afghan defence ministry said on Friday.

"I confirm that Mullah Fazlullah, leader of the Pakistani Taliban, has been killed in an joint air operation [with the US] in the border area of Marawera district of Kunar province," Mohammad Radmanish, spokesman for Afghan defence ministry, told Reuters news agency, adding the air attack was carried out at about 9am local time on Thursday.

In a separate statement to the Associated Press news agency, Radmanish said that two other armed fighters were killed alongside Fazlullah. 

Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (known by the acronym TTP) acknowledged that its leader had been killed, according to Turkey's Anadolu Agency.

TTP accused the Afghan intelligence service NDS, which has long been suspected by Pakistan of harbouring Fazlullah, of providing information for the drone attack.

According to a statement attributed to US Forces-Afghanistan spokesman, Lt Col Martin O'Donnell, the US carried out a "counterterrorism strike" near the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan targeting "a senior leader of a designated terrorist organisation."

The US statement did not say whether the attack had killed anyone and did not identify Fazlullah as the target.

O'Donnell said that the US and NATO "continue to adhere" to Afghanistan's ceasefire declaration with the Afghan Taliban.

But he said the the ceasefire "does not include US counterterrorism efforts" against other armed groups in the region.

In March, Fazlullah's son, Abdullah, was among 20 TTP armed fighters killed in a US drone attack also in Kunar.

Fazlullah became the leader of TTP in November 2013; following the death of Hakimullah Mehsud, who was killed in a US drone attack in North Waziristan.

Fazlullah had been described as a "ruthless fighter" who was vehemently anti-state and against peace talks. 

He was the first commander of the TTP not to come from the Mehsud tribe in Pakistan's tribal areas, hailing instead from the northwestern valley of Swat, where he waged a bloody war against the Pakistani state from 2007 to 2009.

Pakistan has often accused US and Afghan forces of not doing enough to target TTP forces living on the Afghan side of the volatile Pakistan-Afghanistan border, where they fled following a series of military operations by Pakistan.

While violence has dropped in recent years, the TTP and its affiliates continue to carry out sporadic large-scale attacks targeting Pakistani security forces and civilians.

At least 748 civilians and security forces were killed in violence perpetrated by the TTP and other armed groups in 2017, down from a peak of at least 3,739 in 2012, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, a New Delhi based research organisation.

Pakistan's military says that it has killed at least 4,000 fighters working for the TTP and its allies since 2013.

In January, US President Donald Trump cut more than $1.1bn in military assistance to Pakistan over allegations that it was providing safe haven to members of the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani Network.

Pakistan denies the charges, alleging that it is being scapegoated for the failure of US-led coalition forces to secure Afghanistan after more than 16 years of war.

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