CHAMAN, Pakistan (Reuters) -A Taliban commander confirmed on Wednesday that the rebels’ military chief in southern Afghanistan had been killed in a U.S. air strike on December 19, adding his death was a blow for the Islamist movement.
The U.S. military said last week Akhtar Mohammad Osmani, who had close links to Osama bin Laden, had been killed in an air strike in Helmand province — a claim rejected by a Taliban commander and spokesman at the time.
But a senior Taliban commander who declined to be identified confirmed Osmani had been killed.
“He has died. We got this information on the day of the strike but our leadership ordered us not to disclose it,” the commander, speaking by telephone, told a Reuters reporter in the Pakistani border town of Chaman.
“He was not only an experienced military commander but also good in making financial transactions for us. He had good contacts,” he said, without elaborating.
“His death will have some bad impact on our movement for some time,” he added.
Osmani was the most senior Taliban leader to be killed since the hard-line Islamists were ousted from power in late 2001, weeks after the September 11 attacks on the United States.
The group’s leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, had anointed Osmani as his heir in 2001.
Osmani commanded Taliban operations in six provinces in its southern heartland, including Helmand and Kandahar where foreign troops, mainly British and Canadian, have suffered their worst casualties this year.
Osmani was also close to bin Laden and helped coordinate relations with al Qaeda and other militant groups.