PESHAWAR, Pakistan – A Taliban commander blamed for the deadliest attack on U.S. troops since they entered Afghanistan in 2001 has been killed in a shootout with security forces in Pakistan, American and Pakistani officials said.
Police killed Ahmad Shah, also known as Mullah Ismail, at a roadblock near the northwestern city of Peshawar, a senior Pakistani intelligence official said. Two U.S. security officials confirmed Shah's death in a shootout and said Pakistani authorities had his body.
All three officials spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
U.S. and Afghan officials have described Shah, who also went by the name Mullah Ismail, as the leader of Taliban militants who ambushed a group of U.S. commandos in June 2005 and shot down a Chinook helicopter sent to rescue them. Sixteen American special forces members died on the helicopter.
The commander's death, which was first reported by CBS News on Wednesday, could help relations between Pakistan's new civilian government and Washington, which wants it to keep up the pressure on Taliban and Al Qaeda operatives inside Pakistan, mainly near the Afghan border.
The new government is offering talks to some militant groups in hope of persuading them to abandon insurgency. U.S. officials view the shift of emphasis away from military operations with some skepticism.
Jehanzeb Khan, a police official in Badhber, 6 miles south of Peshawar, said local officers responding to an emergency call about a kidnapping on April 10 set up a roadblock to check passing vehicles and opened fire on one car when the driver tried to speed away.
Khan said two suspected kidnappers were killed and their victim, an Afghan national, was freed unharmed.
He said the dead men carried papers that identified them as Haroon and Noor Agha. He said local police took the bodies to a local morgue and had no more details about the case.
But the senior Pakistani intelligence official said the papers were false and further investigation had identified one of them as Shah. He did not identify the second man or provide other details of the incident.
"Mullah Ismail (Shah) was the commander whose men shot down the Chinook," the official said. He said Shah was suspected of working closely with Al Qaeda militants in the border region.
The U.S. officials — one from the military and one working in counterterrorism — confirmed Shah's death in Pakistan, but did not provide further details.
"There is strong reason to believe that he is in fact dead," the counterterrorism official said.
Spokesmen for the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan and the Pakistan army said they could not confirm Shah's death.
Zabiullah Mujahed, a Taliban spokesman, also said he did not know if Shah had been killed.
U.S.-led forces have repeatedly tried to crush Shah's network in Kunar, which lies north of where the road from Peshawar enters Afghanistan through the Khyber Pass.
It includes the Korangal Valley, an infamous militant hotspot where on June 28, 2005, three Navy SEAL commandos were killed in an ambush. The doomed Chinook had been on a mission to try to rescue the SEALs when it was downed by a rocket-propelled grenade.
One commando survived the ambush and was rescued by a local villager.