KABUL, Afghanistan, (AP) – A top Taliban military commander described as a close associate of Osama bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Omar was killed in an airstrike this week close to the border with Pakistan, the U.S. military said Saturday.
Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Osmani was killed Tuesday by a U.S. airstrike while traveling by vehicle in a deserted area in the southern province of Helmand, the U.S. military said.
Osmani was the Taliban’s chief military commander in southern Afghanistan and played a “central role in facilitating terrorist operations” including roadside bombs, suicide attacks and kidnappings, the U.S. said.
He was part of a group of “co-equals” at the top of the Taliban leadership chain just under Omar, U.S. military spokesman Col. Tom Collins said.
“This guy had been deeply involved in terrorist acts against the people of Afghanistan, NATO and the government,” Collins said. “He was a top commander of Taliban operations in the south and now he’s no more.”
Osmani was also in charge of the Taliban’s finances, Collins said.
Collins said that Osmani had been “utilizing both sides” of the Afghan-Pakistan border, and that the U.S. military had been tracking him “for a while.”
“When the time was right, and we thought we had a good chance of hitting him without causing any harm to civilians, we struck,” he said.
Though the U.S. said Osmani was an associate of bin Laden, Omar and Afghan insurgent leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Collins said he didn’t know the last time Osmani had contact with any of the three.
There was no immediate confirmation from Afghan officials, and a purported spokesman for the Taliban could not immediately be reached for comment.