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Senior Al Qaeda operational commander killed in US airstrike

The Pentagon says Abu Khalil al-Sudani was directly linked to external attack planning against the United States.

Jonathan Ernst/AP/File
US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter speaks on board his plane en route to Afghanistan on Feb. 20, 2015.

A US airstrike in Afghanistan has killed a senior Al Qaeda leader, the Pentagon announced on Friday.

Abu Khalil al-Sudani was described as a “high-ranking Al Qaeda operational commander” who was the head of Al Qaeda's “suicide and explosives operations,” Reuters reported.

Mr. Sudani was killed in a July 11 strike in Afghanistan’s southeastern province of Paktika. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said Friday the strike illustrated US forces’ ongoing efforts against Al Qaeda.

The Pentagon stated that Sudani was “directly linked to external attack planning against the United States,” according to The Washington Post, and had close ties to current Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.

This is the second time in recent days US officials have announced that they have successfully targeted a high-ranking militant.

On July 21, the Pentagon confirmed that Muhsin al-Fadhli, leader of the Al Qaeda-affiliated “Khorasan group,” was killed in a drone strike in Syria on July 8.

Airstrikes and drone strikes have commonly been used by the US against militants and jihadists in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and Syria.

In Syria, the US-led airstrikes and drone attacks have gradually intensified since last September. On Thursday, Turkey granted permission for US warplanes to use two Turkish air bases for their attacks against Islamic State in Syria.

Despite these strikes' effectiveness in many cases, they sometimes result in civilian casualties.

In September 2014, activists said a series of US-led airstrikes against a residential area in northwestern Syria killed as many as two dozen civilians, the Los Angeles Times reported at the time.

At the time, the Pentagon said it was unaware of any civilian casualties. But a few months later, after the investigation into 18 cases started, Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said the airstrikes may have killed civilians.

In May, activists alleged airstrikes targeting Islamic State militants have killed more than 50 civilians, including seven children, in northern Syria, a figure which a US Central Command spokesman said could not be corroborated.

In 2014, a data analysis conducted by the human-rights group Reprieve, indicated that as of November, drone strikes targeting 41 men resulted in the deaths of an estimated 1,147 people, the Guardian reported.

The US does not agree with the numbers reported by non-governmental groups. The New York Times reported every independent investigation of the strikes has found “far more civilian casualties than administration officials admit.”

But the Obama administration admits that drone attacks can cost civilian lives. In May 2013, President Obama declared that no strike was taken without “near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured,” adding that “those deaths will haunt us as long as we live.”

As for airstrikes and drone strikes in Syria, it does not appear for now that the military will alter its operations.

Maj. Jens Lunde, a spokesman for the US operation in Iraq and Syria, told the Huffington Post last May that changes are not on the way, and added "Although we strive to avoid non-combatant casualties in this extremely complex operating environment, we recognize the continued risk inherent in airstrikes."

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