Thirty-one extremists, many of them believed to have been al-Qaeda fighters, have been killed in airstrikes in south-eastern Afghanistan, officials said Thursday.
The strikes were carried out in Ghazni province late Wednesday, where the defence ministry said they targeted a ‘base’ belonging to the extremists.
‘Qari Aref, one of the facilitators (for al-Qaeda) was transferring these 31 terrorists, including nine suicide bombers, in several cars when targeted by airstrikes and eliminated,’ the ministry said.
It described the fighters as all belonging to the Middle Eastern jihadist group, although a spokesman for the Ghazni governor said fighters from the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network were also present.
The defence ministry did not specify who carried out the airstrikes. Only Afghan and US forces in Afghanistan conduct airstrikes.
The Ghazni governor’s spokesman, Mohammed Aref Noori, said the strikes had been carried out by US forces, but there was no immediate confirmation of his claim.
Al-Qaeda is still believed to be active in parts Afghanistan and Pakistan, where some of its surviving leadership such as Ayman al-Zawahiri are thought to be hiding.
While still regarded as a threat by Afghan and US officials, the group has not been able to conduct major attacks in Afghanistan or repeat the spectacular success of the September 11, 2001 attacks by hijacked airliners on New York and Washington.
Meanwhile, the Taliban political chief, who headed the Islamist extremists’ delegation during the most recent round of peace talks with the United States, said on Thursday that he was optimistic and assured Afghans that they had no reason to fear a settlement, reports Reuters.
The latest round of talks in Qatar lasted 16 days and finished on Tuesday, with officials from both sides saying that progress had been made, but there was no agreement on when foreign troops might be withdrawn.
‘We are very hopeful for the peace talks, because the latest round had some good dialogues which paved the way to more progress regarding peace in the future,’ Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar said in an eight-minute audio tape of an interview conducted by the Taliban and posted online.
Making his first public comments since his release last year from a Pakistan prison, Baradar sought to reassure Afghans who have worried that peace with the Taliban could herald the return of its hardline Islamist values.
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