By Wesley Bruer
A senior Taliban leader - possibly the same man who allegedly helped al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden escape Afghanistan after the U.S. invasion in 2001 - was killed in a NATO airstrike this week, the International Security Assistance Force announced.
In a statement Monday, ISAF said Maulawi Nur Mohammad, also known as Turabi, was among "dozens of heavily armed insurgents killed in a precision airstrike" in Kunar Province. A man of the same name was instrumental in helping bin Laden and current al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri escape from Tora Bora in December 2001, according to testimony from a detainee at Guantanamo Bay.
Mohammad served as the Taliban's shadow governor for the remote Chapah Darah district, where he was observed by Afghan and coalition forces with a "large group of heavily armed insurgents," ISAF said. He was responsible for planning and conducting all Taliban activity in the area against coalition troops.
According to files leaked to and published by WikiLeaks, Guantanamo detainee Harun Al Afghani told interrogators he had met Mohammad about 10 months after the battle in Tora Bora. It was then that he learned of Mohammad's role - along with 40 to 50 of his men - in bin Laden's escape.
Al Afghani was a senior commander of the Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin (HIG) - an ally of the Taliban - and courier for senior al Qaeda leaders. Al Afghani has been held in Guantanamo Bay since June of 2007 and is listed as a high-risk detainee of high intelligence value.
According to his statement, Al Afghani had set up a meeting between Mohammad and a senior al Qaeda leader named Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi.
Al-Iraqi was described by U.S. defense officials as "one of the highest-ranking and experienced senior operatives at the time of his detention" in April 2007.
Al-Iraqi is said to have given Mohammad $7,000 in repayment of a loan Mohammad made to bin Laden as he prepared to leave Tora Bora. He also allegedly gave Mohammad more than $2,000 to fund terror operations in Jalalabad, the city not far from Tora Bora where Mohammad is thought to have sheltered bin Laden for several weeks.
ISAF has been unable to confirm that the man killed last weekend was the same who had whisked bin Laden away from Tora Bora. Research by CNN when the detainee assessments were first published found no additional information about what had happened to Mohammad since 2001.