NATO confirms senior al-Qaida commander killed

KABUL, Afghanistan - September 29, 2010

The attacks could be a serious blow to the terror network's capabilities in the region, and come as the U.S. has escalated strikes by unmanned drones in Pakistan's volatile border region in an effort to disrupt suspected terror plots in Europe, a Western counterterrorism official said in Washington.

It wasn't known whether the drone attacks were related specifically to a terror plot against Britain, France and Germany that European authorities said they have intercepted. The Eiffel Tower was briefly evacuated Tuesday evening after officials received a telephoned bomb threat.

NATO said the air strike in eastern Afghanistan killed Abdallah Umar al-Qurayshi, a senior al-Qaida commander who coordinated attacks by Arab fighters near the Pakistani border, along with other militants. Pakistani security officials, meanwhile, said they are investigating reports that a missile strike from a CIA drone killed Sheikh Fateh al-Masri as he traveled in a tribal region near the border.

Al-Masri is believed to have replaced Mustafa al-Yazid, who was killed in a missile strike in May, as the group's No. 3 commander.

The United States is believed to have launched 21 drone attacks into northwestern Pakistan this month, more than double the number in any previous month.

The Western counterterrorism official said some of the strikes were aimed at disrupting suspected terrorist plots aimed at Europe. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the details of the terror plot remain sensitive.

But Pakistani security officials said Pakistan, concerned by manned aircraft strikes, has told NATO leaders it will stop protecting U.S. and NATO supply lines to Afghanistan if foreign aircraft stage further cross-border attacks against fleeing militants.

The threat was seen as mostly aimed at tamping down criticism inside Pakistan, where anti-American sentiment runs high and where conspiracy theories that the U.S. Army is poised to invade the nation from bases in Afghanistan are rampant.

But it was also a sign of Pakistani unease at the attacks on Saturday and Monday by NATO aircraft against militants in its northwest tribal areas that killed more than 70 militants, and a reminder of the leverage the country has in its complicated alliance with Washington.

Also Wednesday, NATO said a coalition service member was killed in an insurgent attack in southern Afghanistan. The coalition is currently conducting operation "Dragon Strike" to flush out militants moved forward in the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar.

The service member was killed in a fight with insurgents in the south on Tuesday, the coalition said without giving further details. NATO generally does not announce the nationalities of troops killed until after next of kin have been contacted by the service member's country.

It would not say whether the death was part of the ongoing operation.

"There is tough fighting, but this is to be expected in any situation where you are pushing insurgents out of their strongholds," NATO said in a written response to an AP query. "Dragon Strike is intended to drive a wedge between the insurgency and Afghans. ... We expect hard fighting as we continue these clearing operations."

This year is already the deadliest of the nine-year war, with 536 killed as of Wednesday. There are about 140,000 international forces in Afghanistan.

Southern Afghanistan remains highly volatile. Operation Dragon Strike has so far flushed militants out of Arghandab district, Afghan army Lt. Col. Nabeullah Khan said. It has also cleared the area of mines, a major concern for residents, he said.

NATO said Wednesday that it had detained several insurgents suspected of making bombs, and was searching for a Taliban leader believed to have led attacks on coalition forces in the area.


Associated Press writers Adam Goldman in Washington, Paisley Dodds in London and Munir Ahmed in Islamabad contributed to this report.

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