Afghanistan’s Taliban Wednesday appointed a notorious commander to lead their military operations, as U.S.-led forces intensify the hunt for al Qaeda’s Osama bin Laden and his top lieutenants.
A Taliban official said Wednesday Mullah Dadullah has been appointed commander in the Taliban’s former southern stronghold, which has been the scene of stepped up clashes with U.S.-led and Afghan forces in recent months.
The appointment was made several days ago by a 10-member council led by Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, a Taliban commander, Mullah Sabir Momin, told Reuters.
Dadullah succeeds Hafiz Abdur Rahim, who was killed in a U.S.-led raid in southern Afghanistan, near the border with Pakistan, in September last year.
Dadullah was a commander during Taliban rule from 1996 until late 2001, when the Islamic hard-line group was ousted in a U.S.-led offensive launched in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
Members of the minority ethnic Hazara community accuse him of ordering the massacre of dozens of Shi’ite Muslim Hazaras during the Sunni Muslim Taliban’s rule.
Dadullah, who is in his mid-thirties, has close ties with Mullah Omar, the one-eyed shadowy Taliban leader, whose whereabouts have remained a mystery since the group’s ouster. A mullah is a Muslim cleric. Many top Taliban members use the title.
Taliban remnants and their al Qaeda allies are still active in some southern and eastern parts of the country, where they once drew most of their support.
About 600 people, including militants, have been killed in violence since August, mostly in the south and east, close to the border with Pakistan.
Dadullah’s appointment comes as U.S.-led forces are conducting a new operation in those areas aimed at crushing Taliban and al Qaeda remnants, while Pakistani forces are trying to flush out militants from their side of the border.
Bin Laden is believed to be somewhere along the rugged border.