This AFP file photo shows two freshly assembled US drones as they sit on a base in Logar province, Afghanistan.
Afghanistan’s spy agency says two top al-Qaeda
leaders were killed in a drone airstrike in the country’s troubled northeastern region.
Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS) confirmed in a statement on Thursday that the top militant leaders had been killed during an aerial raid by the so-called US-led military alliance in the province of Kunar, which borders Pakistan.
“Faruq al-Qahtani, Bilal al-Utabi and a third member of the group were killed in a coalition strike in… Kunar province,” the NDS said in a statement, without naming the third leader.
“The strike was carried out in coordination with NDS,” the statement added.
An Afghan intelligence official in the province also said that two al-Qaeda operatives of Arab origin had been killed in the strike.
Abdul Ghani Mosamem, a provincial spokesman, said that the airstrike killed at least 15 militants, including two Arabs. Mosamem noted that a number of Pakistani Taliban militants were also among the fatalities.
US officials in Washington said on Wednesday that the strikes had targeted al-Qahtani and his deputy al-Utabi on Sunday.
They noted that multiple Hellfire missiles “leveled” two different compounds in Kunar where the men were believed to be hiding.
The US spy agency, CIA, has used hundreds of unmanned aircraft to conduct surveillance flights and airstrikes since Washington and its allies invaded Afghanistan in 2001. The CIA regularly uses drones for airstrikes and spying missions in Afghanistan as well as Pakistan’s northwestern tribal belt near the Afghan border.
Washington has also been conducting targeted killings through remotely-controlled armed drones in Somalia and Yemen.
The US claims the airstrikes target members of al-Qaeda and other militants, but according to local residents and witnesses, civilians have been the victims of the attacks in most cases.
The airstrikes, initiated by former US President George W. Bush, have escalated since Barack Obama took office in 2009.
Obama has defended the use of the controversial drone attacks as “self-defense.”
International organizations and human rights groups say the strikes flout international law.