Taliban say senior commander dies in suspected US strike

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ISLAMABAD (AP) — A Taliban official said Friday that a suspected U.S. drone strike the previous day killed a top commander of the militant Haqqani network — the man who in 2014 accompanied U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl when he was handed over to U.S. authorities.

The Taliban official identified the man as Qari Abdullah, saying he died in the "area of Khost."

Pakistani intelligence officials had earlier said a suspected U.S. strike hit in Pakistan's lawless tribal region bordering Afghanistan's Khost, a Haqqani stronghold, killing two militants.

The Taliban official wouldn't confirm it was the same strike. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to talk to reporters. A senior Pakistani official also confirmed Abdullah's identity but asked that his name not be used because he was not authorized to discuss drone strikes.

Abdullah escorted Bergdahl to the U.S. military helicopter that was sent to pick him up.

Bergdahl, who faces a court martial hearing on charges of desertion and misbehavior in front of the enemy, was freed in exchange for five Taliban who had been held at the U.S prison on Guantanamo Bay, Cuba since 2002.

Bergdahl is accused of endangering his comrades when he walked off his post in Afghanistan in 2009. He is scheduled for trial in April and could face life in prison.

On Feb. 24, a U.S. military judge dismissed a request from Bergdahl's defence lawyers to drop the charges. His lawyers argued that comments made by President Donald Trump during the presidential election campaign in which he blasted Bergdahl as a "traitor" prejudiced the trial.

The freed Taliban were sent to the Middle Eastern state of Qatar where the Taliban has established its political office. Since their freedom they have kept a low profile.

They are: Mohammed Fazl, former Taliban chief of army staff and deputy defense minister; Abdul Haq Wasi, who served as the Taliban deputy minister of intelligence; Mullah Norullah Nori, described as one of the most significant former Taliban officials held at Guantanamo. He has been accused of ordering the massacre of thousands of Shiite Muslims. Khairullah Khairkhwa was the Taliban governor of Herat province, the largest and most important province in western Afghanistan, as well as a friend of former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and Mohammed Nabi, who worked as a radio operator for the Taliban's communications office in Kabul.

Pakistan's tribal regions have been the scene of CIA drone strikes and Pakistani army operations in recent years as militants fleeing from Afghanistan set up sanctuaries there. Thousands of foreign and domestic militants have also been killed there since Islamabad became an ally of Washington in the war on terror.

After a 2014 offensive, Pakistan said it regained control of the area, which had also served as the headquarters of the Taliban and al-Qaida. However, both Afghanistan and Pakistan accuse the other of harboring militants on their territory.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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