U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter while on his Middle East tour. (Abir Sultan/EPA)

A U.S. airstrike has killed a senior al-Qaeda leader in Afghanistan, the Pentagon said on Friday.

In a statement, the Pentagon said the strike killed Abu Khalil al-Sudani, who was described as a “high-ranking al-Qaeda operational commander,” on July 11 in Paktika province in southeast Afghanistan.

Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter said the strike illustrated U.S. forces’ ongoing efforts against al-Qaeda. The United States has halted combat operations against the Taliban but maintain a modest counterterrorism presence that is focused on al-Qaeda, which is believed to maintain a presence along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

The Obama administration is planning to end its military operations in Afghanistan by the end of next year, even as Afghan forces grapple with not just Taliban insurgents but, now, militants who have allied themselves with the Islamic State.

The Pentagon said that al-Sudani headed suicide and explosive operations for al-Qaeda and was “directly linked to external attack planning against the United States,” meaning plans for attacks on U.S. or western soil. Officials said the militant had attacked foreign forces in Afghanistan and had close ties to al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.