(ISLAMABAD, Pakistan) — A NATO airstrike in Afghanistan has killed a senior commander of the Pakistani Taliban believed to be responsible for moving weapons and fighters across the porous Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
Mullah Dadullah’s death is seen as a blow to insurgents on both sides of the border, particularly those in the Pakistani tribal areas, where the Pakistani Taliban derive most of their support.
The airstrike took place on Friday in Afghanistan’s Kunar province, in the Shigal district, approximately 10 miles from the Pakistani border. The airstrike killed at least a dozen people, including several believed to be Dadullah’s bodyguards.
The Pakistani Taliban used to operate in Waziristan, part of Pakistan’s tribal areas that operate under different laws than the rest of the country, but in recent months had shifted their operational base across the border into Afghanistan.
Pakistani officials routinely complained that the insurgents were using hideouts in Afghanistan to launch attacks into Pakistani authority. Dadullah’s group is believed to be responsible for several recent high profile attacks, including a jailbreak in the town of Bannu, which led to the escape of more than 400 convicts, including dozens of hardened criminals with deep links to the Taliban.
In recent weeks, Afghan officials had complained of Pakistani shelling in towns on the Afghan side of the border, accusing Pakistan of going after Taliban-linked insurgents on their own.
In a statement, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Allen, emphasized the significance Dadullah’s death would have on repairing the complicated U.S. relationship with Pakistan, which has been fragile ever since an errant U.S. airstrike in November killed two dozen Pakistani soldiers at an outpost along the border.
“We have also long believed that close cooperation with our Pakistani partners is critical in combating the menace of terrorism,” Allen said. “And dealing with this target furthers that objective.”
Within hours of the airstrike, and news of Dadullah’s death, the Pakistani Taliban named Maulana Abu Bakar as the new Taliban chief of Bajur, the region that Dadullah controlled.
The Pakistani Taliban, known in Urdu as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP, are different from the Afghan Taliban, though they share a similar ideology. The TTP is a loose knit coalition of insurgent groups that operate along the porous Afghan-Pakistan border. They consider the Pakistani government illegitimate due to its alliance with the United States. Unlike their Afghan counterparts, the TTP focus most of their attacks against Pakistani targets, both military and civilian.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Ralph Ellis, Ben Wedeman and Michael Pearson, CNN