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U.S. Drone Strike Targets Pakistani Taliban Chief, Possibly Killing Him

A video grab of Pakistani Taliban commander Maulana Fazlullah in 2015.
A video grab of Pakistani Taliban commander Maulana Fazlullah in 2015.

Pentagon officials say a U.S. drone has targeted the leader of the Pakistani Taliban in an Afghan province near the border with Pakistan, with unconfirmed local reports saying the leader was killed.

U.S. military officials told media late on June 14 that the strike targeted Mullah Maulana Fazlullah, the chief of Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan or TTP, a "designated terrorist organization," in a drone operation on June 13 in Kunar province, close to the border.

The U.S. officials who spoke anonymously to Reuters, Voice of America, and AFP said Fazlullah's status was unclear or declined to say whether the operation was successful. Local reports on June 14 said he was killed.

According to Pakistani officials, Fazlullah, who is believed to be in his forties, took refuge in Afghanistan after the TTP was pushed out of Pakistan following a major offensive by the Pakistani military against the organization.

Although the group still stages attacks in Pakistan, it is believed to have lost control of all territory in the South Asian country since its massacre of 150 people at an army school in Peshawar in December 2014 prompted the all-out government campaign against the group.

Fazlullah is believed to have directed the attack in Peshawar. The TPP was also deemed responsible for the October 2012 shooting of Malala Yousafzai, who later won the Nobel Prize and became a global symbol of the fight for the education of girls.

The United States has also accused the group of attempting to stage a car bomb attack in Times Square in New York in 2010.

In March, the United States offered a $5-million reward for information on Fazlullah, saying his group "demonstrated a close alliance with Al-Qaeda" and gave explosives training to Faisal Shahzad, the would-be Times Square bomber.

The drone strike targeting Fazlullah comes amid a cease-fire between the Afghan Taliban and Kabul government forces to mark the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

General John Nicholson, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, said the United States would adhere to the cease-fire announced by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, but said it did not include designated terrorist groups like Islamic State and Al-Qaeda.

Lieutenant-Colonel Martin O'Donnell, a spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said the cease-fire also does not apply to "other regional and international terrorist groups, or the inherent right of U.S. and international forces to defend ourselves if attacked."

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and Voice of America