NATO says Al Qaeda's No. 2 in Afghanistan killed in airstrike

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- U.S.-led coalition troops battling Afghan Taliban insurgents have killed Al Qaeda's second-in-command in Afghanistan in an airstrike in the country's eastern province of Kunar, the coalition said Tuesday.

Sakhr al-Taifi, a Saudi national, commanded foreign insurgent fighters and frequently moved between Afghanistan and Pakistan, often overseeing the transport of militants into Afghanistan, NATO said in a prepared statement. The airstrike occurred Sunday in the Watahpur district of Kunar, a volatile Afghan province along the Pakistani border. 

Al-Taifi and one other unnamed Al Qaeda militant were killed in the airstrike, NATO said.

Over the last two years, the U.S. has steadily eroded Al Qaeda's leadership ranks. U.S. drone missile strikes during that time period have killed at least 18 senior Al Qaeda leaders and commanders, as well as several top Taliban commanders. The death of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in a secret U.S. commando raid in the Pakistani military city of Abbottabad in May 2011, was followed by a drone strike the next month that killed a top Al Qaeda planner, Ilyas Kashmiri, in Pakistan's militant-infested tribal region along the Afghan border.

In August, U.S. officials reported the killing of Al Qaeda's second-in-command, Atiyah Abdul Rahman, in Pakistan’s Waziristan tribal region. Then, in September, a U.S. drone strike in Yemen killed Anwar Awlaki, an American-born Muslim cleric who served as a key propaganda figure for Al Qaeda, using sermons on the Internet to inspire disaffected Muslims to attack the U.S.

Last summer, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said he believed Al Qaeda's defeat was "within reach," though experts have cautioned against thinking that the terror network no longer poses a threat against the U.S. or its allies.

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