By Alex Rodriguez, Los Angeles Times –
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — U.S.-led coalition troops battling Afghan Taliban insurgents have killed al-Qaida’s second-in-command in Afghanistan in an air strike in the country’s eastern province of Kunar, the coalition said Tuesday.
Sakhr al-Taifi, a Saudi national, commanded foreign insurgent fighters and frequently moved between Afghanistan and Pakistan, often overseeing the transport of militants into Afghanistan, NATO said in a prepared statement. The air strike occurred Sunday in the Watahpur district of Kunar, a volatile Afghan province along the Pakistani border.
Al-Taifi and one other unnamed al-Qaida militant were killed in the air strike, NATO said.
Over the last two years, the U.S. has steadily eroded al-Qaida’s leadership ranks. U.S. drone missile strikes during that time period have killed at least 18 senior al-Qaida leaders and commanders, as well as several top Taliban commanders. The death of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in a secret U.S. commando raid in the Pakistani military city of Abbottabad in May 2011, was followed by a drone strike the next month that killed a top al-Qaida planner, Ilyas Kashmiri, in Pakistan’s militant-infested tribal region along the Afghan border.
In August, U.S. officials reported the killing of al-Qaida’s second-in-command, Atiyah Abdul Rahman, in Pakistan’s Waziristan tribal region. Then, in September, a U.S. drone strike in Yemen killed Anwar Awlaki, an American-born Muslim cleric who served as a key propaganda figure for al-Qaida, using sermons on the Internet to inspire disaffected Muslims to attack the U.S.
Last summer, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said he believed al-Qaida’s defeat was “within reach,” though experts have cautioned against thinking that the terror network no longer poses a threat against the U.S. or its allies.