NATO and Afghan forces have killed a former Guantanamo detainee who returned to Afghanistan to become a key al-Qa’ida ally.
The militant’s death was a reminder of the risks of trying to end a controversial detention system without letting loose people who will launch attacks on Americans.
Sabar Lal Melma, who was released from Guantanamo in 2007, had been organising attacks in eastern Kunar province and funding insurgent operations, NATO spokesman Captain Justin Brockhoff said.
A NATO statement described Melma as a “key affiliate of the al-Qa’ida network” who was in contact with senior al-Qa’ida members in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Another former detainee who joined the al-Qa’ida franchise in Yemen was killed in a recent US airstrike there.
Troops surrounded Melma’s house in Jalalabad city on Friday night and shot him dead when he emerged from the building holding an AK-47 assault rifle. Several other people were detained, NATO said.
A guard at the house, Mohammad Gul, said a group of American soldiers scaled the walls of the compound around 11 pm and stormed the house, shooting Melma in the assault. Three others were detained, Gul said.
Melma joined a long list of detainees believed to have reconnected with al-Qa’ida. In 2009, the Pentagon said 61, approximately 11 per cent, of the detainees released from Guantanamo had rejoined the fight. Experts have questioned the validity of that number.
About 520 Guantanamo detainees have been released from custody or transferred to prisons elsewhere in the world.
There are 171 inmates still held at the facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. President Barack Obama signed an executive order in 2009 just after taking office asking for it to be shut down within the year, but it has remained open as the administration has worked to find ways to deal with the inmates.
After the fall of the Taliban, Melma, 49, was given the rank of brigadier general in the Afghan National Army and placed in charge of approximately 600 border security troops in Kunar, according to a file made public by WikiLeaks.
But he was suspected of still helping carry out rocket attacks against US troops, and he was captured in August 2002 while attending a meeting with US military officials in Asadabad and transferred to the US prison at Guantanamo Bay in October that year.
While imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay, the US determined he was a “probable facilitator for al-Qa’ida members” and was also thought to have links to Pakistan’s intelligence service. In 2005, he was described as a “medium risk” to the United States.
He was sent back to Afghanistan in September 2007.
NATO said in a statement that coalition forces have captured or killed more than 40 al-Qa’ida insurgents in eastern Afghanistan this year.