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US targets 2 top al-Qaida leaders in northeastern Afghanistan

By ANDREW YURKOVSKY | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 27, 2016

KABUL, Afghanistan — U.S. officials on Thursday were evaluating the results of airstrikes that targeted two senior al-Qaida leaders whose deaths the Pentagon said would be a “significant blow” to the group in Afghanistan.

The airstrikes were carried out Sunday in northwestern Kunar province against Faruq al-Qatani and Bilal al-Utabi, the Pentagon said.

Al-Qatani, a Saudi and Qatari national, was described as the al-Qaida’s top leader in northeastern Af-ghanistan; both he and al-Utabi, a Jordanian, were said to be involved in establishing safe havens for the terrorist group in Afghanistan.

“We’re still assessing the results of this strike, and that assessment is a deliberate process that takes many forms,” U.S. Brig. Gen. Charles H. Cleveland, spokesman for the NATO-led Resolute Support mission, said in a statement. “Because of that, we’re not yet able to provide any updates on the results.”

Juma Gul Himmat, Kunar’s police chief, said Thursday that a drone strike was carried out a few days ago in the Ghazi Abad district of Kunar’s’ Helgal Valley. Twenty-six people were killed, including two Arabs and some Pakistanis, he said. He couldn’t identify the Arabs.

Kunar province shares a border with Pakistan, which Afghanistan accuses of harboring al-Qaida members and Taliban insurgents.

Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said in a statement Wednesday that the two al-Qaida leaders were targeted “at what was assessed as command-and-control locations.”

“If these strikes are determined to be successful, eliminating these core leaders of al-Qaida will disrupt efforts to plot against the United States and our allies and partners around the world, reduce the threat to our Afghan partners, and assist their efforts to deny al-Qaida safe haven in Afghanistan,” Cook said.

Cleveland said that because of operational security and the fact the strikes were a counterterrorism operation, he couldn’t disclose specific information about how they were conducted.

Zubair Babakarkhail contributed to this report

yurkovsky.andrew@stripes.com

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