Afghanistan says Taliban leader Mullah Akthar Mohammad Mansur has been killed in a U.S. drone attack inside Pakistan.
The country’s National Directorate of Security said on May 22 that Mansur was targeted along with other militants aboard a vehicle in the southwestern Pakistani province of Balochistan.
Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah said on Twitter that Mansur was killed early on May 21 after his car was hit by a drone strike in Dahl Bandin district, just over the border with Afghanistan.
The statements come after the Pentagon announced it carried out an air strike against Mansur in a remote region along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said the United States was studying the results of the attack, but a U.S. official not authorized to discuss the operation publicly said Mansur and a second male combatant accompanying him in a vehicle were probably killed.
The official said the attack was carried out by unmanned aircraft operated by U.S. Special Operations Forces. The official said the operation occurred near the town of Ahmad Wal in Balochistan, and was authorized by President Barack Obama.
The Associated Press quoted Taliban commander Mullah Abdul Rauf as saying Mansur was killed in a drone strike "in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area."
Other Taliban militants denied the reports as baseless.
"I have seen the reports,” Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Nafees Zakaria said. “We are seeking clarification."
Two Pakistani intelligence officials told AFP news agency that the drones struck near the city of Quetta, killing two people whose bodies were burned beyond recognition.
They did not confirm whether Mansur was among them but said the bodies had been moved to a hospital in Quetta.
Afghanistan’s Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah also said Mansur's death would have a positive impact on stalled peace negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government.
He said Mansur was "the main figure preventing the Taliban joining the peace process" in Afghanistan, where the Taliban have been waging an insurgency for 15 years.
“In the event of Mullah Mansur’s killing, a new opportunity presents itself to those Taliban who are willing to end the war and bloodshed, return to the country from the foreigners’ land, and join the Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace process,” Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's office said in a statement.
During a visit to Myanmar, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Mansur posed a "continuing imminent threat" to U.S. personnel in Afghanistan and to Afghans, and was “directly opposed to the peace negotiation and to the reconciliation process."
The air strike that targeted the Taliban leader “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," Kerry added.
He said both Afghan and Pakistani leaders were notified of the air strike, but he declined to elaborate on the timing of the notifications, which he said included a telephone call from him to Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Members of Congress lauded the attack.
Representative Adam Schiff (Democrat-California), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said Mansur's death would be a huge blow to the Taliban, but not enough to allow the United States to disengage from the conflict.
"We must remain vigilant and well-resourced in the field, and must continue to help create the conditions for a political solution," Schiff said.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (Republican-Arizona) said he was glad Mansur "has met his just end," but urged stepped-up coalition attacks on the Taliban.
"Our troops are in Afghanistan today for the same reason they deployed there in 2001 -- to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for global terrorists," McCain said.
Mansur was declared the leader of the Taliban in July 2015, just days after the Afghan government confirmed that Taliban spiritual leader Mullah Mohammad Omar had died in the Pakistani port city of Karachi two years earlier.
But a leadership dispute immediately ensued with some Taliban commanders refusing to recognize Mansur.
The Taliban ruled Afghanistan according to a harsh interpretation of Islamic law until the group was toppled by a U.S.-led invasion following the September 11, 2001, attacks.
With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP