U.S. officials: Taliban leader Mullah Mansour likely killed in airstrike

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WASHINGTON (CNN) — Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour was likely killed in an airstrike in Pakistan on Saturday, two U.S. officials told CNN.

One of the officials said the strike occurred around 6 a.m. ET Saturday morning in a remote area of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, southwest of the town of Ahmad Wal.

“Mansour played a key leadership role in not only orchestrating the Taliban but orchestrating a variety of other organizations to include the Haqqani network and Al-Qaeda who were perpetrating operations against not only U.S. forces but coalition forces and Afghan forces for a long period of time,” Central Command Gen. Joseph Votel told CNN’s Barbara Starr in Amman, Jordan. “He’s an individual who has been in that structure for a long time. I’m glad he’s gone.”

Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking in Myanmar, said Mansour “was directly opposed to peace negotiations.”

“This action sends a clear message to the world that we will continue to stand with our Afghan partners as they work to build a more stable, united, secure, and prosperous Afghanistan,” he said at a news conference. “It is time for Afghans to stop fighting and to start building a real future together.”

Mansour was the target of the strike, and a second adult male combatant traveling with him in a vehicle also was likely killed, the official added.

U.S. officials are still assessing the results, the official said. The second source, a senior administration official, said it would likely take days to get “physical confirmation” because of the remote location.

Afghan officials confirmed the killing. President Abdullah Abdullah tweeted that Mansour was the victim of a drone strike that targeted his car in the Dahl Bandin area of Quetta in Pakistan.

An Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman, Dawlat Waziri, echoed the confirmation during a press conference in Kabul on Sunday afternoon.

Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security, also said Mansour was killed in an airstrike in Balochistan.

The strike was carried out by multiple unmanned aircraft operated by U.S. Special Operations forces. There was no collateral damage, the first official added.

President Barack Obama authorized the strike.

The Pentagon confirmed the strike in a statement but didn’t say whether Mansour was killed.

Key figure

“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.”

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of the more hawkish Republicans in the Senate, welcomed the news in a statement and urged Obama to not withdraw troops from Afghanistan “until conditions on the ground permit their withdrawal.”

“I’m glad to hear we decided to bring the leader of the Afghan Taliban, Mullah Akhtar Mansour, to justice. Mansour has terrorized the Afghan people as well as coalition forces,” Graham said. “I appreciate President Obama for authorizing the attack. And job well done to the members of our military and intelligence communities who carried out the mission.”

Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, added, “If verified, the death of Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour would be an important victory in the fight against terror and welcome news to our military personnel in Afghanistan and the Afghan government.”

The Taliban revealed last summer that Mansour assumed command following the death of longtime leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, who died in Pakistan in 2013.

Rise through the ranks

Mansour formerly headed the leadership council of the Taliban and Islamic scholars, also known as the Quetta Shura, which is composed of longtime leaders who direct the Taliban’s operations from Pakistan’s Balochistan province, according to the Jamestown Foundation, a global research and analysis group.

According to the U.N. Security Council sanctions list, Mansour previously was the Taliban’s minister of civil aviation and transportation and was considered “a prominent member of the Taliban leadership.”

“He was repatriated to Afghanistan in September 2006 following detention in Pakistan. He is involved in drug trafficking and was active in the provinces of Khost, Paktia and Paktika in Afghanistan as of May 2007. He was also the Taliban ‘Governor’ of Kandahar as of May 2007,” the U.N. document said.

He was an active recruiter in the Taliban’s fight against the Afghan government, and before his appointment as Omar’s deputy in 2010, he was chief of military affairs for a regional Taliban military council that oversees operations in Nimruz and Helmand provinces, the United Nations said.