A senior Taliban commander who became a hero to Islamic militants for his role in shooting down a U.S. helicopter in 2005, killing all 16 special forces troops aboard, has been killed by Pakistani security forces, officials and Taliban militants tell CBS News.
Mullah Ismail, a notorious Taliban commander from the Afghan province of Kunar, was killed in a shootout with Pakistani police as he traveled with a kidnapped trader, a local police officer said Wednesday. He was apparently on his way into the lawless Northwest Frontier Province along the Afghan border.
Officer Mukarma Khan said Ismail, also known as Mullah Ahmad Shah, had kidnapped the trader from a camp for Afghan refugees in Pakistan and was trying to transport him back to the border when he failed to stop at the checkpoint. He apparently opened fire on the police and was killed in the following exchange of gunfire.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid confirmed the death of the key commander and said he was a prominent Taliban figure in the area.
Abdul Jalal Jalal, chief of police in Afghanistan's Kunar province, where Ismail was based, told CBS News that he was also aware about the militant's death in Pakistan. He described him as the "most wanted terrorist in Kunar province."
A Taliban sub-commander in Kunar province, who spoke on condition of anonymity, would not confirm the killing. But he told CBS News Ismail's death "would be a full-scale blow." He praised Ismail for the shooting down of the Chinook in 2005.
Ismail was also said to be a key facilitator of al Qaeda militants in the region - many of whom come from outside southeast Asia and do not speak the local languages. According to Taliban sources, Osama bin Laden personally honored Ismail's authority in the area after the Chinook attack in a letter sent through an intermediary.
Police chief Jalal said Ismail and the militants under his command were behind many attacks on NATO, U.S. and Afghan forces in the northeastern part of Afghanistan.
Ismail became a hero for al Qaeda and the Taliban after his group hit a U.S. Navy MH-47 Chinook helicopter in late June 2005, apparently with a shoulder-fired rocket. The helicopter was one of four aircraft ferrying special forces into the area on a reconnaissance mission.
It was considered a lucky shot from an inaccurate weapon; but it left eight Navy SEALs and eight Army air crew from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment dead.
It was the deadliest single attack on U.S. troops in Afghanistan since the invasion to topple the Taliban in 2001.
The Chinook was shot down as it ferried troops into the region to search for four Navy SEALs who had gone missing in the area in late June. Three of the men were found dead, but one, who was wounded, managed to escape -- to a local home, where he was hidden from the Taliban and eventually rescued by U.S. forces.
On Wednesday, Afghan shepherd Gulab Khan, who says he's the one who saved the life of the only surviving SEAL, told CBS News that Mullah Ismail attacked his village the day after the helicopter was shot down, searching for any survivors.
Khan said he protected the SEAL, but his actions brought death threats from Ismail and his militants, which prompted the shepherd to relocate his entire family to the provincial capital. He described Ismail as the most powerful militant in Kunar province.