Highest Ranking Taliban Leader Killed in US Airstrike

Although new leaders seem to pop out of nowhere, another dead Taliban leader is, none the less, a good thing.

A U.S. airstrike near the Pakistan border killed the Taliban’s southern military commander, a U.S. military spokesman said Saturday, calling him the highest-ranking Taliban ever slain by American forces.

Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Osmani’s vehicle was hit by a U.S. airstrike Tuesday as he traveled in a deserted area in the southern province of Helmand, the spokesman said. Two associates also were killed.

U.S. and Afghan officials said the strike was a major victory. Ahmed Rashid, a leading author on Islamic militancy, said Osmani’s death could disrupt planning for a Taliban offensive early next year, designed to extend the recent surge of violence across Afghanistan.

Osmani played an instrumental role in some of the Taliban’s most notorious excesses _ including the demolition of the ancient Buddha statues in Bamiyan and the trial of Christian aid workers in 2001, Rashid said.

He was also one of three top associates of Taliban leader Mullah Omar, Rashid said, and among the first supporters of Osama bin Laden within the militant Islamic militia’s top ranks.

A Taliban spokesman denied that Osmani was dead. But a provincial police chief and Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry confirmed the killing. Interior Ministry spokesman Zemeri Bashary called it “a big achievement.”

A U.S. spokesman said the death was confirmed through multiple sources.

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