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US Drone Strike Kills Senior Taliban Leader in Afghanistan

Afghanistan’s Taliban says an American drone strike in northern Afghanistan has killed one of its senior commanders, who led insurgents to briefly capture the capital of Kunduz province in 2015.

Mullah Abdul Salam and several of his key commanders were killed Sunday in the Dashti Archi district of Kunduz, Afghan and Taliban officials confirmed Monday.

A spokesman for the Islamist insurgency, Zabihullah Mujahid, maintained that missiles fired by an unmanned U.S. aircraft killed Salam.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, while thanking his national security forces and praising their bravery at a special ceremony in Kabul, revealed the news about the death of the insurgent commander.

“Our security and defense forces yesterday [Sunday], as an important demonstration for the security of Kunduz, destroyed Mullah Salam along with his aides,” Ghani said, without elaborating.

A U.S. military spokesman confirmed an air raid had been carried out Sunday in Kunduz, but said there was no confirmation about its outcome.

Mullah Salam was the most senior Taliban leader 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 in the official reconciliation efforts.

But Salam rejoined the Taliban upon his return to Afghanistan and retook command of insurgents in Kunduz.

The insurgent commander was from Dashti Archi, one of the Taliban’s strongholds in the province, and some Afghan observers say they believe he played a key role in promoting the group’s contacts with Russia.