A United States airstrike in Afghanistan has eliminated al Qaeda's top bombing coordinator, the Pentagon announced on Friday.
Abu Khalil al-Sudani was said to be involved in operations that targeted American, Afghan, and Pakistani forces, and was a senior member of al Qaeda's Shura Council, the terrorist group's leadership body.
"The death of al Sudani will further degrade al Qaeda operations across the globe," Defense Secretary Ash Carter said in a statement. The US government said that the strike, which took place in the Afghan province of Paktika on July 11, also killed two other al Qaeda members as well.
Bill Riggio, a national security analyst at the Long War Journal, told VICE news that it is difficult to know for certain exactly what position Sudani held in al Qaeda.
"But the fact that he was on the Shura Council means he's a top decision-maker in the organization," he said.
The New York Times could not independently verify the US account of the strike. Officials in Afghanistan said that they had no knowledge of the attack, and could not confirm that a senior al Qaeda official had been killed. NATO's relationship with members of the Afghan government is not as close as it was, and it no longer shares information about these attacks with them.
Documents recovered from Osama bin Laden's compound in Pakistan illustrate how the late al Qaeda founder trusted and endorsed Sudani.
In a letter from bin Laden to al Qaeda's general manager, Atiyah Abd al Rahman, bin Laden recommends Sudani as a suitable deputy.
"Regarding the appointment of a deputy for you, please let me know about Sheikh Abu Khalil [al Sudani's] qualifications for this mission during this period," bin Laden wrote. "If there is nothing preventing him from becoming a deputy, let him do it and tell him that he has been appointed as your deputy for a period of one year renewable starting on the date of receiving the letter."
The strike is just the latest blow to al Qaeda's leadership: the organization's second-in-command, Nasir al Wuhayshi, was killed in Yemen in June, and Muhsin al Fadhli, the head of the al Qaeda splinter group known as Khorasan, was killed in Syria earlier this month.
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced the latest hit during a trip to Iraq, where he reiterated the US commitment to military action against violent extremists.
"We will continue to counter violent extremism in the region and around the world, including efforts to deliver a lasting defeat to ISIL," Mr. Carter said, referring to an alternative name for the so-called Islamic State terror insurgency that has declared a dubious "caliphate" in areas of Syria and Iraq.