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Militant commander 'dies in suspected drone strike near Afghan-Pakistani border'

A top commander of the militant Haqqani network has been killed in a suspected US drone strike in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan, a Taliban spokesman said.

The spokesman said the commander was the man who accompanied US Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl when he was handed over to US authorities in 2014.

He identified the man as Qari Abdullah, saying he died in the "area of Khost".

Pakistani intelligence officials had earlier said a suspected US strike hit in Pakistan's lawless tribal region bordering Afghanistan's Khost, a Haqqani stronghold, killing two militants.

The Taliban spokesman would not confirm whether it was the same strike. A senior Pakistani official also confirmed Abdullah's identity.

Abdullah escorted Mr Bergdahl to the US military helicopter that was sent to pick him up.

Mr Bergdahl, who faces a court martial hearing on charges of desertion and misbehaviour in front of the enemy, was freed in exchange for five Taliban members who had been held at the US prison on Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, since 2002.

He is accused of endangering his comrades when he walked off his post in Afghanistan in 2009. He is scheduled for trial in April and could face life in prison.

On February 24, a US military judge dismissed a request from Mr Bergdahl's defence lawyers to drop the charges.

They argued that comments made by President Donald Trump during the presidential election campaign in which he blasted Mr Bergdahl as a "traitor" prejudiced the trial.

The freed Taliban members were sent to the Middle Eastern state of Qatar where the Taliban have established their political office. Since their freedom they have kept a low profile.

Among them are Mohammed Fazl, former Taliban chief of army staff and deputy defence minister; Abdul Haq Wasi, who served as the Taliban deputy minister of intelligence; and Mullah Norullah Nori, described as one of the most significant former Taliban officials held at Guantanamo.

He has been accused of ordering the massacre of thousands of Shiite Muslims.

The other two Taliban members are Khairullah Khairkhwa, who was the Taliban governor of Herat province, the largest and most important province in western Afghanistan, as well as a friend of former Afghan president Hamid Karzai, and Mohammed Nabi, who worked as a radio operator for the Taliban's communications office in Kabul.

Pakistan's tribal regions have been the scene of CIA drone strikes and Pakistani army operations in recent years as militants fleeing from Afghanistan set up sanctuaries there.

Thousands of foreign and domestic militants have also been killed there since Islamabad became an ally of Washington in the war on terror.

After a 2014 offensive, Pakistan said it regained control of the area, which had also served as the headquarters of the Taliban and al Qaida.

However, both Afghanistan and Pakistan accuse the other of harbouring militants on their territory.

AP

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