The United States military has confirmed the killing of a top Taliban leader in a recent airstrike in Afghanistan’s troubled northern province of Kunduz.
The strike, conducted on Sunday as part of an operation with Afghan security forces, killed Mullah Abdul Salam, the Taliban commander for Kunduz, along with four other enemy combatants, the military announced Tuesday.
It said in a statement that no civilians were hurt or killed in the action.
The slain Taliban commander was responsible for inflicting “immeasurable suffering” on the population of Kunduz and his forces destroyed bridges as well as key infrastructure in the area despite claims they would protect civilians and property, the statement added.
“Mullah Salam and the Taliban fighters under him murdered and terrorized the people of Kunduz for too long,” said General John Nicholson, the commander, U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
“Salam’s death is an opportunity for change…The Taliban know the only path forward is reconciliation,” Nicholson added.
The slain commander led insurgents to briefly capture the provincial capital of Kunduz in 2015, the first urban center the Taliban had overrun months after most of the U.S.-led international forces withdrew from the country.
The U.S. military Tuesday reiterated it will continue to work with its Afghan partners to target those who are enemies of a peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan.
The Taliban confirmed on Monday that Salam was killed in a U.S. drone strike in his native district of Dashti Archi in Kunduz and identified him as the governor of the province.
The insurgent commander was the most senior Taliban figure eliminated since the group’s chief, Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, was killed in a U.S. drone strike in May 2016 while he was traveling through neighboring Pakistan’s Baluchistan province.
Salam was arrested in Pakistan in 2010, before he was freed along with other Taliban prisoners two years later at the insistence of the then-Afghan government, which hoped the insurgents would quit violence and help with official reconciliation efforts.
But Salam rejoined the Taliban upon his return to Afghanistan and retook command of insurgents in Kunduz.
Meanwhile, a Taliban spokesman Tuesday claimed responsibility for killing 12 Afghan police personnel in an overnight attack on a checkpoint in the southern Helmand province.
Officials say a security worker, apparently linked to the insurgents, facilitated the attack in a restive part of the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah.
Helmand is a major poppy growing region and has been the scene of fierce fighting in recent months, with most of its districts either controlled or influenced by the Taliban.