KABUL (Reuters) – Afghanistan’s intelligence service said that a top al Qaeda militant commander was among those killed during an operation last month in Helmand province that also caused civilian deaths at a wedding party.
Asim Omar, a Pakistani national, and the leader of al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), was killed in the Musa Qala district of Helmand on Sept. 23, the Afghan National Directorate of Security, (NDS) the country’s intelligence agency said on Twitter on Tuesday.
At least 40 people, including 12 children, were killed during the joint U.S.-Afghan operation, which occurred days after a U.S. drone strike aimed at militants hiding among farmers killed 32 pine nut harvesters.
Afghan officials said a house being used by Taliban insurgents to train suicide bombers was located adjacent to the bride’s home that came under fire during the night raid.
The NDS said that six other militants, including Raihan, who was identified by only one name, were also killed during the raid. The agency said Raihan was Omar’s courier to al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri.
In a statement on Tuesday, the Taliban dismissed the al Qaeda deaths and said the Afghan government is trying to hide the fact that its operations killed civilians.
The United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and ousted the Taliban regime after they refused to hand over members of al Qaeda group behind the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S. that killed more than 3,000 people.
Afghan and U.S. officials say al Qaeda militants are still present in Afghanistan but not usually active, compared with the Islamic State militant group and the Taliban, who often mount attacks on government forces.
A United Nations report released on June 30 said 717 civilian deaths were attributed to U.S. and Afghan forces during the first six months of the year, compared with 531 blamed on militants.
Last week President Ashraf Ghani promised measures to reduce
civilian casualties and called for extra caution in military operations, and ordered investigations.
(Reporting by Hamid Shalizi, Editing by Christian Schmollinger)