Officials in southern Afghanistan said an overnight airstrike killed at least 22 Taliban insurgents, including 18 would-be suicide bombers.
Regional corps commander Lieutenant General Daud Shah Wafadar told VOA on Tuesday that the strike had targeted a major training center in Shamulzayi district of troubled Zabul province.
He said three Pakistani trainers and the head of the Taliban’s so-called provincial military commission were also among those killed. The general added that bombers trained at the center had been responsible for numerous deadly attacks in southern Afghan provinces.
Taliban officials have not yet responded to claims about whether the facility struck was one that they used.
The Afghan Air Force used A-29 Super Tucano attack aircraft in the operation, according to officials.
The United States has so far delivered 12 A-29s to Afghanistan, including four sent last month to try to boost close-air attack capabilities of Afghan forces for the 2017 fighting season.
The Afghan district where Monday night’s airstrike occurred borders Pakistan’s southwestern Baluchistan province. Afghan officials maintain Shamulzayi serves as a key route for insurgents entering from the neighboring country. Atta Jan Haqbayan, head of Zabul’s provincial council, told VOA that the militants control a large portion of the district and have created a border checkpoint.
The insurgents pass through Shamalzai as they bring their wounded fighters into Pakistan for treatment, according to Afghan government and media reports.
In addition to an active Taliban presence across Zabul province, the Islamic State group is also reportedly present there. The provincial governor last year said IS was getting stronger and, in some areas, had taken over rival Taliban positions.
Central Asian militants, including members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), have been in the province since 2007 and fought alongside the Taliban against the Afghan government. But the militants pledged allegiance to IS after the Taliban announced its disassociation with international terrorist groups, including al-Qaida, and abandoned plans to support the spread of terrorist activities into central Asia.
Hours after he shared details of the successful airstrike with media, Wafadar spoke by phone to his Pakistani counterpart, Lieutenant General Amir Riaz.
While Afghan officials have not released any details, the Pakistan military said that it was the first “hotline communication” between the two commanders.
“Both sides discussed issues related to Pak-Afghan border, expressed satisfaction over establishment of hotline communication and vowed to continue such interactions in future,” according to the media wing of the Pakistan army.
The southern provinces of Kandahar and Helmand, which are mostly controlled by the Taliban, also border Baluchistan. Afghan officials alleged the Pakistani province hosts Taliban leaders and sanctuaries. The allegations and counterallegations have strained relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan, though both sides deny allowing terrorists to use their territory for cross-border attacks.