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NATO troops kill former Guantanamo prisoner

He was deemed a ‘medium risk’ at release in 2007

By Heidi Vogt and Rahim Faiez
Associated Press / September 4, 2011

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KABUL - NATO and Afghan forces killed a former Guantanamo detainee who returned to Afghanistan to become a key Al Qaeda ally, international officials said yesterday.

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.

Saber Lal Melma, who was released from Guantanamo in 2007, had been organizing attacks in eastern Kunar Province and funding insurgent operations, said a NATO spokesman, Captain Justin Brockhoff.

A NATO statement described Melma as a key affiliate of Al Qaeda who was in contact with senior Al Qaeda members in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Another former detainee who joined the Al Qaeda franchise in Yemen was killed in a recent US airstrike there.

Troops surrounded Melma’s house in Jalalabad city 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 p.m. 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 Qaeda. In 2009, the Pentagon said 61 of the detainees released from Guantanamo had rejoined the fight, nearly 12 percent. The validity of that number has been called into question.

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 Obama signed an executive order just after taking office in 2009 asking for the prison to be shut down within a 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 helping carry out 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 prison at Guantanamo Bay in October of that year.

While imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay, the US determined he was a “probable facilitator for Al Qaeda 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 Qaeda insurgents in eastern Afghanistan this year.

In June 2010, the CIA director at the time, Leon Panetta, said only 50 to 100 Al Qaeda operatives continued to operate in Afghanistan. It was not clear if he was referring to commanders or foot soldiers.

Also yesterday:

■ In Kabul, a political standoff over the makeup of Parliament continued as police escorted a handful of new lawmakers into Parliament despite protests from sitting parliamentarians that the new group is illegitimate.

■ In the southern city of Kandahar, officials said NATO forces killed a child and a shopkeeper who were caught up in a firefight between a military patrol and a gunman. NATO said that one of its service members was killed in an insurgent attack yesterday in southern Afghanistan but did not say if it was the same incident.

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