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Afghan Government Says Taliban Leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour Killed By U.S. Airstrike

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. And we begin this hour in Afghanistan because the government there says the leader of the Afghan Taliban has been killed by a U.S. drone strike this weekend. It's a clear reminder that while the U.S. is no longer in the lead and its presence there is a fraction of what it used to be, there is still a war happening in Afghanistan. In a moment we'll talk with a U.N. official based in Kabul about a program that's been trying to pay Taliban members to give up the fight. But first, we turn to NPR's Tom Bowman who is in Afghanistan now and joins us for the latest on this drone strike and the apparent death of this Taliban leader. Tom, good morning.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: What do we know about this operation that the Afghan government is now confirming killed Mullah Mansour?

BOWMAN: Well, the Pentagon and also officials here say there were multiple drones involved in this mission by the American special operations forces. And it was authorized by President Obama. And the attack took place in a remote area south of the Pakistan city of Quetta and not far from the border with Afghanistan's Kandahar province. Now the Taliban has not confirmed the death. That Afghan intelligence agency says he is dead. And the Americans, for their part, are saying they're still assessing the results of this attack.

MARTIN: Tom, this is a Taliban leader who, at some point, was supposed to have been killed before, right?

BOWMAN: That's right. Back in December, Mullah Mansour was involved in a gunfight with rival Taliban leaders over in Pakistan. In the reports, he was wounded and later died. And there are times, of course, when U.S. airstrikes claim they've killed someone and that's not the case.

Now, Mullah Mansour has led the Taliban for the past three years. And he took over from the original Taliban leader this Mullah Omar who sheltered Osama bin Laden. And that, of course, led to the American intervention.

MARTIN: You are in Afghanistan now. You've been reporting on the war there, though, for years. So Tom, what does it look like to you? How strong is the insurgency right now? And what would it mean to have Mullah Mansour out of this war?

BOWMAN: Well, the Taliban, Rachel, made quite a few gains over the past year. They grabbed areas of southern Afghanistan and Helmand province that the U.S. Marines fought for seven years ago and paid a very heavy price in casualties. And now the U.S. has sent troops to work with the Afghans at lower levels in Helmand province closer to the front lines. And they're going to try to help the Afghans push back the Taliban.

But, you know, it's too soon to say what impact Mullah Mansour's death will have if, in fact, he is dead. We spoke with one analyst here today in Kabul, Haroon Mir, who said it could be a game changer. And that's because you have no clear successor to Mullah Mansour. And the Taliban has fractured into rival groups.

So you could have, on the one hand, no leader and multiple rival groups with no clear direction. But he also said there could be more Taliban attacks, more suicide attacks, to show the Taliban is still out there and basically seeking revenge for this.

MARTIN: NPR's Tom Bowman reporting from Afghanistan. Thanks so much, Tom.

BOWMAN: You're welcome, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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