The leader of al-Qaeda‘s South Asia branch was killed in a US-Afghan joint raid in southern Afghanistan last month, Afghan officials have confirmed.
Asim Umar, who led al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) from its inception in 2014, was killed during a raid on September 23 on a Taliban compound in the Musa Qala district of Helmand province.
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He “was #killed along with six other AQIS members, most of them Pakistani”, the NDS said on Twitter on Tuesday, adding that Umar had been “embedded” with the Taliban.
The raid was part of a lengthy and confusing overnight operation from September 22-23 for which the US provided air support.
Authorities said they would investigate reports that 40 civilians, including children, were killed in an air raid during the operation.
The NDS also said that among the six other AQIS members killed in the raid was a man identified as “Raihan”, a courier for al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.
However, Taliban spokesman denied the claims on Tuesday saying that Umar was not killed, and that the operation “only caused heavy civilian losses”.
Under a stalled withdrawal plan negotiated between the United States and the Taliban, Washington agreed to pull troops from Afghanistan if the rebels abide by security guarantees and cut all ties with al-Qaeda.
The US and the Taliban had been negotiating for a year to reach a deal that would have cut US forces in Afghanistan and could have paved the way to a reduction in violence, but President Donald Trump scuttled that agreement last month, citing Taliban violence.
Even if the deal had been finalised, observers doubted whether the Taliban would ever really separate from al-Qaeda.
The US invaded Afghanistan in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks after the then-Taliban rulers refused to hand over al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, blamed for the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
The middle-aged Umar was relatively unknown when he was picked to lead the newly created AQIS in 2014.
The group was established to try to rouse fighters in India, Bangladesh and Myanmar.
An Afghan Taliban source said in 2014 that Umar had worked with the Pakistan Taliban, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) chapter in Pakistan‘s most populous province, for some years before linking up with al-Qaeda.
Umar – an alias – was named by al-Zawahiri in a video message.
A Pakistani intelligence official said Umar had travelled to Syria, though it was not possible to confirm this.