UPDATE: 11:54 p.m. IST — Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour was killed in the United States-led drone strike late on Friday night, senior Taliban commander Mullah Abdul Rauf told the Associated Press on Sunday.
Original Story —
Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour was probably killed in a drone strike conducted by the United States on the Pakistan side of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border on Saturday, according to reports.
The attack was carried out as part of the mission approved by U.S. President Barack Obama, Reuters reported. Mansour and a male combatant accompanying the former in a vehicle were the target of the air strike that was conducted around 6 a.m. ET, CNN quoted a U.S. official as saying.
While Pentagon confirmed the attack, it refused to comment on whether Mansour is dead. The official confirmation is expected to arrive after the result of the strike is assessed.
"Mansour has been the leader of the Taliban and actively involved with planning attacks against facilities in Kabul and across Afghanistan, presenting a threat to Afghan civilians and security forces, our personnel, and coalition partners," Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said in the statement.
"Mansour has been an obstacle to peace and reconciliation between the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban, prohibiting Taliban leaders from participating in peace talks with the Afghan government that could lead to an end to the conflict," he added.
Some U.S. officials have, however, told Reuters on condition of anonymity that Mansour was likely killed, a claim refuted by a Taliban commander close to the leader.
"We heard about these baseless reports but this not first time. Just wanted to share with you my own information that Mullah Mansour has not been killed," he said on condition of anonymity.
Mansour had taken charge of the Taliban last year, succeeding Mullah Mohammed Omar, who died in Pakistan in 2013. The death of Mansour, if confirmed, would come as a major blow for the Taliban that regained control of territories in Afghanistan since 2014 when the U.S. started to withdrew its forces. It has also reportedly managed to spread its hold in the region.
The Taliban were forced to flee their bases in Afghanistan after the U.S. targeted the militant group in 2001.