KABUL -- The recent killing of a top al-Qaeda leader by Afghan forces highlights the capabilities and professionalism of the country's security agencies to squash terror threats and defend Afghanistan, analysts and officials say.
Abu Muhsin al-Masri, an Egyptian national believed to be the number-two leader of al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), was targeted and killed in Andar District, Ghazni Province, the National Directorate of Security (NDS) said in a statement Sunday (October 25).
Afghan officials did not provide further details about the operation or when it took place.
"The Afghan security forces, especially special forces, are professional and now have excellent combat experience," said Gen. (ret.) Aziz Ahmad Wardak, a Kabul-based military affairs analyst.
"Their skills and equipment are at the level of the international coalition forces, which is why these forces have been able to eliminate the prominent leaders and commanders of terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and ISIS," he added, referring to the acronym for the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria".
"The Afghan security and defence forces have been conducting all ground and air operations independently for some time now, and the successful planning and execution of their operations, which resulted in the death of al-Qaeda's second-in-command [in the sub-continent], are commendable," Wardak said.
Afghan security forces are up to the task of eliminating terrorists in the country, agreed Maj. Gen. (ret.) Zahir Azimi, a former Defence Ministry spokesman who is now a military affairs analyst in Kabul.
"One of the great things that have been done in Afghanistan for the past almost two decades is the creation of professional Afghan security and defence forces," he said.
"Good military training, modern weapons and excellent morale have enabled them to launch large and complex operations," he added.
The killing of the al-Qaeda leader is a significant blow to the militant group, according to Chris Miller, director of the US National Counterterrorism Centre.
Al-Masri's death "is a major setback to a terrorist organisation that is consistently experiencing strategic losses facilitated by the United States and its partners", Miller said in a statement.
Concerns over al-Qaeda ties with Taliban
The killing of al-Masri also highlighted ongoing concerns that al-Qaeda retains strong ties with the Taliban.
An aide to al-Masri who was "in contact with the Taliban" was detained during the operation in Ghazni Province, a source at the NDS who did not want to be named, told AFP.
The Taliban have continued to work with AQIS, the US Defence Department said in July, and in May a United Nations (UN) analysis detailed the Taliban's extensive ties with al-Qaeda.
Ties between the Taliban, particularly its Haqqani Network, and al-Qaeda "remain close, based on friendship, a history of shared struggle, ideological sympathy and intermarriage", the report said.
Evidence shows that the Taliban, despite pledging to turn their backs on the terrorist group, have enabled al-Qaeda to gain strength under their protection, according to the UN monitor.
The two insurgent outfits are in cahoots, agreed Edmund Fitton-Brown, co-ordinator of the UN's Islamic State, Al-Qaeda and Taliban Monitoring Team, telling the BBC that "al-Qaeda are heavily embedded with the Taliban".
"They do a good deal of military action and training action with the Taliban, and that has not changed," the BBC cited him as saying in an article on its website on Wednesday (October 28).
Calls for Taliban to renounce terrorism
President Ashraf Ghani is convinced of their alliance as well and, following the killing of al-Masri, accused the Taliban of keeping close ties with al-Qaeda.
"The killing of a key al-Qaeda member by our heroes proved that the threat of terrorism and the Taliban's connection to terrorist networks still persist," the Afghan Presidential Palace said in a statement October 25, quoting Ghani.
"The Taliban must prove to the people, the government of Afghanistan and the international community that they are severing ties with al-Qaeda and other terrorist networks, renouncing violence and accepting a permanent ceasefire to pave the way for peace," said Ghani.
Acting Interior Affairs Minister Masood Andarabi concurred with Ghani's comments.
"The killing of one of the key al-Qaeda member, al-Masri, by the [NDS] demonstrates the close ties of the Taliban to the terrorist groups that are operating against the Afghan government and its people," he tweeted in Dari on October 25.
"They still keep close relations with the terrorist groups, and they are lying to different sides."
The Taliban have not commented on the death of al-Masri or on Ghani's and Andarabi's accusations.
The Taliban's sheltering of al-Qaeda was the original reason for the US military intervention in Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.
Taliban leaders have continued to deny al-Qaeda's role in the terrorist attack on the United States, even though the terrorist group admits carrying it out from Taliban-controlled territory.
[Sulaiman from Kabul contributed to this report.]