A US drone strike in Afghanistan’s northeastern Kunar province has killed a leading militant, who was the man in charge of the Pakistan Taliban’s (TTP) operations in the Swat Valley when activist Malala Yousafzai was shot in 2012, according to a Afghan government official.
Ministry of Defense spokesman Mohammad Radmanish confirmed to CNN that Mullah Fazlullah, who led the TTP from 2013, was killed in the strike Wednesday.
US forces had conducted the strike close to the border of Pakistan, targeting the “Emir” of the group, according US Forces-Afghanistan spokesman Lt. Col. Martin O’Donnell.
Fazlullah had been a major figure in the TTP even before he became emir in late 2013, and led a Pakistan Taliban militia in the country’s Swat Valley prior to his elevation to leadership of the group.
The administrative district, in northwestern Pakistan, was where militants shot and wounded teen activist Yousafzai in October 2012 as she was riding home from school in a van; the Pakistan Taliban claimed responsibility.
A statement from US Forces-Afghanistan claimed that the strike did not put an ongoing, unilateral ceasefire initiated by the Afghan government at risk.
“US Forces-Afghanistan and NATO-led Resolute Support forces continue to adhere to the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan’s unilateral ceasefire with the Afghan Taliban, announced by … Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, which began on the 27th day of Ramadan.
“As previously stated, the ceasefire does not include US counterterrorism efforts against IS-K, al Qaeda, and other regional and international terrorist groups, or the inherent right of US and international forces to defend ourselves if attacked,” read the statement. IS-K refers to ISIS’ presence in Afghanistan.
“We hope this pause leads to dialogue and progress on reconciliation and a lasting end to hostilities,” the statement added.
Fazlullah, one of the Pakistan Taliban’s longtime militia commanders, was elected leader in 2013. The previous head, Hakimullah Mehsud, was killed in a US drone strike in northwestern Pakistan just before Fazlullah took control.
Fazlullah was known as a hardliner who broadcast fiery sermons and hard-line ideology via an extremist radio station. The station was shut down when he was pushed out of Pakistan into Afghanistan.
He was in charge of the Swat region when the attack on Yousafzai took place.
From a young age, she has been an advocate for girls education, writing online about the intimidation efforts of the terror group, which particularly targeting schools, in her home province. She was shot in the head by Taliban militants in an assassination attempt, but survived and was sent to the UK for treatment.
In 2014, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize jointly with Kailash Satyarthi for activism on behalf of children’s rights. She is the Prize’s youngest recipient.
She began studying at Oxford University in the UK last year, but in her most recent public interview, she told talk show host David Letterman about how she missed “the rivers and mountains” of her home in Swat Vallley and all she wanted was for her “feet to touch the ground of home.”
She returned to her hometown in Swat for the first time since the attack earlier this year.
Along with masterminding the attack on Yousafzai, Fazlullah was the leader of the TTP when they claimed responsibility for the bloodiest terrorist attack in Pakistan’s history, a December 2014 attack on a military school in Peshawar, which left 141 schoolchildren under the age of 11 dead. The attack is seen by many as a turning point in Pakistan’s war against militancy.
Pakistan has long accused DC and Afghanistan for harboring Fazulllah in Afghanistan, using his presence there as a rebuttal to criticism for not aggressively the Haqqani Network within Pakistan.