Airstrike Kills Key Afghan Taliban Commander
Senior Taliban officials say a suspected American drone strike has killed a key Taliban commander who told captured U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl “Don’t come back to Afghanistan” moments before releasing him to the U.S. military in a prisoner swap three years ago.
The U.S. military, however, told VOA Friday, “Neither U.S. forces Afghanistan nor Resolute Support conducted any strikes in Pakistan or in border areas of Afghanistan on Thursday.”
Taliban sources confirmed Friday that slain Qari Abdullah Mairaj was among two men hit by what the Taliban believes were U.S. missiles the previous day in the southeastern Afghan province of Khost, bordering Pakistan.
The insurgent group agreed to free Bergdahl after nearly five years in captivity in exchange for five Taliban members from the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The Taliban later released a video of the May 2014 transfer in the Ali Sher district of Khost, showing a masked man, at one point, telling Bergdahl in the local Pashto language: “Don’t come back to Afghanistan. You won’t make it out alive next time.”
The Taliban later identified the masked man as Qari Abdullah Mairaj, and sources close to the group say he was among those killed in an airstrike Thursday. The sources would not discuss details about the other dead militant accompanying Mairaj.
Reports Thursday said the two militants were riding a motorcycle in Kurram when a drone targeted them.
With the U.S. military’s comment Friday that it did not conduct such a strike, it is not clear exactly how the militants were killed.
It was also not immediately possible to ascertain the exact location of the incident because the volatile Pakistan-Afghanistan border region is beyond the access of journalists and aid workers.