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Death of key TTP leader in Afghanistan further cripples militant network

Pakistan Forward and AFP

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Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers stand guard as others inspect the site of a suicide car bombing near a base of Afghan special forces in Chahar Asyab District, south of Kabul, last September 12. [STR/AFP]

PESHAWAR -- The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has confirmed that one of its key leaders and another member of the group were killed in a clash with security forces in Afghanistan.

Sheikh Khalid Haqqani, who served on the group's consultative council and had been a deputy leader, was killed on January 31, the TTP said in a statement February 7.

Close Haqqani confidant Qari Saifullah Peshawari was also killed in the clash that took place inside Afghanistan during a "mission", a senior Pakistani Taliban leader told AFP.

Afghan security forces declined to comment, and it was not immediately clear what type of mission Haqqani may have been on.

Haqqani was not thought to be related to the Haqqani Network, which is also affiliated with the Afghan Taliban.

The TTP has vowed vengeance for the deaths.

Overall levels of extremist-linked violence in Pakistan dropped dramatically last year, with 2019 seeing the fewest deaths since 2007 -- the year the Pakistani Taliban umbrella group was formed.

Analysts have credited the decline to military offensives against the Taliban in the tribal areas of North Waziristan and Khyber where they were headquartered, as well as operations in the country's largest city, Karachi.

In 2018, the TTP was further degraded after a US strike in Afghanistan killed their leader, Mullah Fazlullah.

The killing of Haqqani is a severe blow to the militants as he was a key leader and used to give lectures to fighters, said Peshawar-based security analyst Brig. (ret.) Mehmood Shah.

Insurgent outfit loses support

Haqqani commanded respect among the TTP "because he was an ideological leader and his words were taken seriously by his followers", Shah said.

"His assassination will definitely weaken the TTP militants who have been suffering huge losses at the hands of Afghan forces," he said.

TTP militants are finding it very difficult to escape the international and Afghan forces hunting them aggressively, he said. A few years ago, civilians used to give shelter to the TTP, but now the militants have lost most of their support.

The TTP "will suffer more casualties in the near future because the Afghan forces have been fighting them courageously", he said.

The killing of a leader of the calibre of Haqqani is a severe blow to the TTP militants, said Abdur Rehman, a political scientist at Abdul Wali Khan University Mardan.

The TPP has lost many leaders in the recent past, but Haqqani's killing by Afghan forces is a big setback to the TTP movement, he said.

"His death will discourage TTP militants, and they won't be able to put up stiff resistance to the government's forces," Rehman said.

TTP militants in both Afghanistan and Pakistan "will also feel the heat" after Haqqani's death, he added. "The militants won't be able to fight bravely."

[Ashfaq Yusufzai from Peshawar contributed to this report.]

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