US military confirms death of Pakistani Taliban commander

The US military killed a commander from the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan who also served as an al Qaeda facilitator in an airstrike in Afghanistan’s eastern province of Paktika late last month. The strike took place in a district that is known to have served as an al Qaeda haven in the past.

NATO Special Operations Component Command-Afghanistan identified Rehan as “a Tehrik-e Taliban deputy commander and Al Qaeda facilitator” and said he was killed in a US airstrike in the district of Bermal in Paktika on Feb. 22. A video of the strike (above) was also posted. Rehan was targeted as he was traveling in a vehicle.

“Rehan is the second significant TTP deputy commander killed in Paktika this year,” the press release noted. The military also noted that the US killed Sajna Meshud, who served as a deputy emir for the TTP. The TTP confirmed that Mehsud was killed in a strike in North Waziristan on Feb. 8, while the US military claimed he was killed on Jan. 27 in Bermal.

NATO also highlighted the TTP-al Qaeda relationship. Rehan and Meshud “yielded influence within Al Qaeda,” the military noted in its press release. “Al Qaeda provides funding to the TTP. The TTP, in turn, facilitate Al Qaeda travel and operations in the region.”

Bermal, the district where Rehan was killed, is a known base for al Qaeda, the Taliban, and other jihadist groups. Al Qaeda is known to have operated a training camp in Bermal until it was raided by US forces in the summer of 2015. The raid on the Bermal camp gave the US information on the existence of two other al Qaeda training camps in the Shorabak district in Kandahar province, the previous commander of US forces in Afghanistan, General John Campbell, told The Washington Post in 2015.

The US also killed Abu Khalil al Sudani, a senior al Qaeda leader who took direction from Ayman al Zawahiri, in an airstrike in Bermal at the end of July 2015. Sudani had a hand in al Qaeda’s external operations network, which plots attacks against the US and the West.

The TTP and al Qaeda: an enduring relationship

The relationship between the TTP and al Qaeda is well documented. The TTP has provided shelter and support for numerous al Qaeda leaders, and many top al Qaeda leaders and operatives who have been killed in the US drone campaign inside Pakistan have been killed alongside TTP chiefs or in territory controlled by the TTP.

But perhaps the most interesting evidence that details the al Qaeda-TTP relationship is a letter seized from Osama bin Laden’s compound. The letter was written by Atiyah Abd al Rahman, who at the time served as bin Laden’s chief of staff, and Abu Yahya al Libi, a top al Qaeda religious leader, and addressed to Hakeemullah Mehsud, who was the emir of the TTP (all three leaders have been subsequently killed in US drone strikes inside Pakistan).

In the letter, the two al Qaeda leaders provided guidance and feedback to Hakeemullah’s proposal to lead the jihad in Pakistan, and critiqued his leadership style. The letter indicates that al Qaeda was asserting its authority over Hakeemullah and the Pakistani terror group. [See Bin Laden docs: Al Qaeda asserts authority in letter to Pakistani Taliban leader.]

The TTP is known to operate in eastern Afghanistan alongside al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban. The US has killed several TTP leaders inside Afghanistan over the past decade. Prior to the most significant killings of Sajna and Rehan, the prominent TTP leader killed by the US in Afghanistan was Mullah Dadullah, who led the group’s branch in the Pakistani tribal agency of Bajuar. The US killed Dadullah, his deputy, Shakir, and 10 other fighters in an airstrike in Afghanistan remote province of Kunar.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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