Taliban Leader Mullah Ahktar Mansoor 'Likely Killed' by U.S. Air - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Taliban Leader Mullah Ahktar Mansoor 'Likely Killed' by U.S. Airstrike: Officials

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Taliban chief Mullah Akhtar Mansoor was targeted by a U.S. airstrike Saturday along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and was "likely killed," senior defense officials told NBC News.

Officials were trying to confirm whether he was indeed killed by the strike, which was authorized by President Barack Obama. The senior defense officials told NBC News that Mansoor and another Taliban combatant were "likely killed" by the airstrikes from "multiple" U.S. drones that struck a vehicle in which they were riding in a remote area of Pakistan, southwest of the town of Ahmad Wal.

A senior defense official claimed there was "no collateral damage" — meaning no civilians killed in the strikes.

The Taliban quickly issued a statement denying that Mansour was killed, even before the Pentagon made its announcement that a U.S. airstrike Saturday targeted him.

If confirmed, the death would be a serious blow to the organization. Mansoor became its leader last July, when it was revealed that reclusive long-time head, Mullah Omar, had died two years prior. Mansoor had been his deputy.

That abrupt shift in leadership raised hopes that a weakened Taliban would be willing to make concessions in Afghan peace talks. Instead, Mansoor appointed new top deputies and won a string of battlefield victories, the most notable of which was Kunduz in northern Afghanistan last September — one of the most stunning setbacks since U.S.-backed forces invaded in 2001.

Mansoor "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," a Pentagon statement earlier Saturday said.

Speculation had mounted for years that his predecessor, the one-eyed Mullah, had died. But it wasn't until July 29, 2012, that a spokesman for Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security confirmed that he had.

"According to our intelligence, Mullah Omar has died in a hospital in Pakistan a couple years ago," Abdul Hassib Sediqi told NBC News. The government said he died of hepatitis B but his death was hidden for the sake of keeping the group together, an intelligence source said.

The militancy only seemed to unify itself even more after Mansoor took over, with relatives of Omar supporting him.

"The esteemed family of the founder of the Islamic Emirate ... Mullah Mohammad Omar Mujahid pledged their allegiance to the new Islamic Emirate leader Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansoor at a grand gathering on Tuesday," the Taliban said at the time in a statement sent to journalists.

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