Lucas Tomlinson (Pentagon and State Department producer for Fox News Channel.)
The United States military killed a senior Al Qaeda leader Tuesday in an airstrike in Afghanistan’s southern Zabul Province, the local website Tolo News reported, citing a statement from Afghan special forces.
The Al Qaeda commander killed in the airstrike was identified by Afghanistan’s Ministry of Defense as Mullah Mohammad Ali.
The U.S. military confirmed a strike took place in the same location yesterday, but would not say whether a senior Al Qaeda leader was killed.
“We can confirm that U.S. Forces conducted a counter-terrorism strike in the Shah Joyi district, Zabul province, May 17. For operational security reasons, we do not discuss the details of counter-terrorism operations,” said the statement from Operation Resolute Support, the name for the U.S.-led mission in Afghanistan.
From the beginning of January through March 1, the U.S. has conducted roughly 100 counter-terrorism strikes. In April, it conducted another 19, according to Brigadier General Charles H. Cleveland, deputy chief of staff for communications for Operation Resolute Support. He said the majority of the strikes were against ISIS or ISIS-affiliated groups in eastern Afghanistan, but some were against Al Qaeda.
Brig. Gen. Cleveland added that there are now between 100 and 300 Al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan, 15 years after the 9/11 attacks.
When asked about the current level of coordination between Al Qaeda and the Taliban, Cleveland said there is evidence the two groups are working “closely” at times.
“We have seen more interaction. We have seen them working more together,” Cleveland said. “Bottom line is there is still an Al Qaeda presence here in Afghanistan.”
There are an estimated 30,000 Taliban fighters in Afghanistan, according to Cleveland — a roughly 20 percent increase over 2009 estimates.
The nearly 10,000 U.S. troops stationed in Afghanistan are supposed to be roughly cut in half when President Obama leaves office in January.