LADHA: Azam Khan Tariq, a key leader of the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), was killed in an air strike in Paktika province of Afghanistan late on Saturday night.

Nabiullah Darkhel, spokesman for the Paktika governor, and TTP sources confirmed that Raees Khan alias Azam Tariq, who was spokesman for the Khan Said group of the TTP, was killed along with 11 associates in the air strike carried out jointly by the Afghan special forces and Nato troops in the Laman Mangritai area.

The deceased were Azam Tariq, his son Saifullah, Khairullah and Mutakaleem; two men of the Gul Bahadar group from North Waziristan Agency (NWA); and a Kashmiri militant. The rest belonged to the Mahsud and Dawar tribes of NWA and South Waziristan tribal region.

The sources said the action started late on Saturday night and continued till 4pm on Sunday, adding that ground forces were backed by four helicopter gunships and two drones.

During the action, thousands of Mahsud and Dawar tribesmen, who had migrated to Paktika after the Pakistan Army launched Operation Zarb-i-Azb, remained confined to their houses. A large number of them have returned back after the security forces cleared the area and declared it safe and secure.

Zeshan Mahsud, a leader of the Khan Said group, confirmed Azam Tariq’s death. “He [Tariq] is no more among us because he got martyrdom in the air strike in Paktika,” he said while talking to Dawn.

Zeshan said that Tariq’s successor would be appointed soon.

Azam Tariq belonged to the Barownd area of South Waziristan. He was made the TTP spokesman when the banned group was led by Baitullah Mahsud.

AFP adds: Azam Tariq had a Rs20 million bounty on his head and was the fourth-highest ranking leader in the TTP.

He was also a close aide to former TTP chief Hakeemullah Mehsud, who was killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan in 2013.

In 2009, the Pakistani government offered $5m for information leading to the capture of TTP leaders.

Tariq was top of the list as three other leaders had been killed – either in US drone strikes or in Pakistani military operations.

Pakistan has demanded that Kabul hand over fugitive TTP chief Maulana Fazlullah, who is reportedly hiding in eastern Afghanistan.

Published in Dawn September 26th, 2016

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