KABUL, Afghanistan — NATO and Afghan forces have killed a former Guantanamo detainee who returned to Afghanistan to become a key al-Qaida ally, international officials said Saturday.
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, NATO spokesman Capt. Justin Brockhoff said.
A NATO statement described Melma as a "key affiliate of the al-Qaida network" who was in contact with senior al-Qaida members in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Another former detainee who joined the al-Qaida franchise in Yemen was killed in a recent U.S. 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 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-Qaida. In 2009, the Pentagon said 61, approximately 11 percent, 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 in other countries around the world.
There are 171 inmates still held at the facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. 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 the WikiLeaks website.
But he was suspected of still helping carry out rocket attacks against U.S. troops, and he was captured in August 2002 while attending a meeting with U.S. military officials in Asadabad and transferred to the prison at Guantanamo Bay in October that year.
While imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay, the U.S. determined he was a "probable facilitator for al-Qaida members." He 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-Qaida insurgents in eastern Afghanistan this year.
In June 2010, then CIA director Leon Panetta said only 50 to 100 al-Qaida operatives continued to operate inside Afghanistan. It's not clear if Panetta was referring to commanders or foot soldiers.
CIVILIANS KILLED: 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 also said one of its service members was killed in an insurgent attack on Saturday in southern Afghanistan but did not provide details.