The United States conducted a drone strike on Saturday against the leader of Afghan Taliban, likely killing him close to the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region in a mission authorized by US President Barack Obama, officials said.
The death of Mullah Akhtar Mansour, should it be confirmed, could further fracture the Talibanan outcome that experts cautioned might make the insurgents even less likely to participate in long-stalled peace efforts.
The mission, which included multiple drones, demonstrated a clear willingness by Obama to go after the Afghan Taliban leadership in Pakistan now that the insurgents control or contest more territory in Afghanistan than at any time since being ousted by a US-led intervention in 2001.
Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook confirmed an air strike targeting Mansour in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region but declined to speculate on his fate, although US officials speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters he likely was killed.
“We are still assessing the results of the strike and will provide more information as it becomes available,” Cook said.
The US drones targeted Mansour and another combatant as the men rode in a vehicle in a remote area, another US official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
US special operations forces operated the drones in a mission authorized by Obama that took place at about 6 am EDT (1000 GMT), the official said. That would have placed it at Saturday at 3 pm in Pakistan.
A Taliban commander close to Mansour, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, denied Mansour was dead.
“We heard about these baseless reports but this not first time,” the commander said. “Just wanted to share with you my own information that Mullah Mansour has not been killed.”
But news agency the Associated Press a senior Taliban commander had confirmed Mullah Akhtar Mansour’s death in the drone strike.
Mullah Abdul Rauf, who recently reconciled with Mansour after initially rebelling against his ascension to the leadership, said that Mansour died in the strike late Friday “in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area,” the Associated Press reported.
In December, Mansour was reportedly wounded and possibly killed in a shootout at the house of another Taliban leader near Quetta in Pakistan.
“The opportunity to conduct this operation to eliminate the threat that Mansour posed was a distinctive one and we acted on it,” a State Department official said.
There was no comment immediately available from Afghan security and intelligence officials.
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