Wednesday, June 3, 2009

British troops kill Taliban bomb mastermind - Telegraph

By Thomas Harding, Defence Correspondent

Following an intelligence tip-off the mullah was tracked by surveillance aircraft and killed in an attack by an Apache helicopter.

John Hutton, the Defence Secretary said the attack was a "significant blow" to the Taliban as the bomb-maker was at "the heart of the insurgents' attempts to kill and injure British troops" and "brought misery to innocent Afghan civilians". Four British soldiers were killed last month.

The Ministry of Defence said the Taliban commander was behind a suicide bomb attack that killed Sgt Ben Ross, 34, and Cpl Kumar Pun, 30 in the town of Gereshk in which 19 civilians, including women and children died.

He was also behind an attack last month that killed 13 Afghan police and civilians and one on the Helmand Police Headquarters in March that killed nine Afghan policemen and two civilians.

Following a surveillance operation, that might have used special forces and voice recognition technology, Mullah Mansur was positively identified as a "high value target" in the early hours of Monday in an isolated area near Nahr e Saraj, north east of Lashkar Gah.

The attack is also believed to have killed and injured a number of accomplices of the bomb mastermind.

Lt Col Nick Richardson, the spokesman for Task Force Helmand, said British forces conducted "a successful precision strike against the most dangerous man in central Helmand".

"The attacks Mullah Mansur helped plan and execute have probably killed or wounded hundreds of people, and most of them have been either Afghan civilians or police. This operation was the culmination of months of effort and the strike itself was carefully coordinated and checked to ensure there were no civilians in the area."

Mullah Mansur was known to have strong links to insurgent commanders from the Baluch tribe in the south and acted as the link between the insurgency in the south and central Helmand, the MoD said.

The news comes after the head of the military's helicopters said Apache pilots are operating at "maximum stretch" in Afghanistan due to a significant shortfall in aircrew.

The Apache force, which became operational when British troops entered Helmand province in 2006, is currently 20 per cent short of its full complement of 50 pilots.

Rear Admiral Tony Johnstone-Burt, head of Joint Helicopter Command, said "We are at maximum stretch and there are hotspots in certain areas."

"Apaches have been committed with more pilots than we have got," he told the Commons Defence Committee.

The shortages had reached the point that the RAF and Navy had provided helicopter crews to qualify on the Apache.

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