I was sitting on this until further confirmation, but Fox news network has just broadcast it so confidence in the story must be getting higher. US forces might have killed Mansoor or “Baby” Daddullah in a precision bombing run.
UPDATE: Yahoo news now carrying the story.
From the UK Independent:
The US military said it had carried out a “precision air strike” on Thursday “against two notorious Taliban commanders conducting a leadership meeting in a remote area of the Baghran district … after ensuring there were no innocent Afghans in the surrounding area”. The Afghan Defence Ministry said intelligence reports indicated that three militant leaders, including Mullah Rahim, the Taliban commander for Helmand province, were among those killed. An even higher-ranked leader, Dadullah Mansour, commander of the Taliban for the whole of southern Afghanistan, was at the meeting, but his fate was unknown, said the ministry.
As often happens, however, local accounts of the raid were radically different. Police in Helmand and a local MP said there had been heavy civilian casualties, because villagers had been summoned by the Taliban to witness the hanging of two men accused of being spies when the bombs fell.
Mansour replaced his elder brother leading the Taliban in Afghanistan after Mullah Dadullah was killed last May. He was Zawahiri’s third choice, as two other leaders were presented on tapes before Mansour started leading.
You should remember Mansour from the “Suicide Bomber Graduate” tape in June. Like his elder brother he is known for making exaggerated claims, and for having Reuters and other reporters on Speed-dial in his Satellite phone.
Mansour is believed to be directly behind the Korean hostage taking, and the recent shift in tactics of taking NGO personnel hostage. This shift from military to bandit tactics should demonstrate how the Taliban threat in Afghanistan is diminishing over that of last summer, even if they are getting a lot more press now.
UPDATE From the Frontier Post:
Afghan and Western military forces said on Saturday there were minimal civilian casualties from an air strike in southern Afghanistan this week that targeted Taliban leaders and may have killed up to 150 people. Aircraft from the US-led coalition in Afghanistan launched a strike in the Baghran area of Helmand province on Thursday, targeting known Taliban commanders, the U.S. military said. The following day, Afghan authorities said they were checking reports of civilian casualties in the raid and said some 20 wounded had been brought to the main hospital in Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital. British forces said 17 adult males and an eight-year-old boy were in hospital in Lashkar Gah suffering from blast injuries. The Afghan Defence Ministry said some 40 men had also been brought to hospital in the main southern city of Kandahar. “It is interesting there were no females,” said British Lieutenant-Colonel Charlie Mayo, suggesting the wounded adult males may have been Taliban fighters. “We are very confident we hit a large meeting of Taliban and they are very sore about it.” “We were closely monitoring the Baghran district from August 2 in the morning,” said Afghan Defence Ministry spokesman General Zahir Azimy. He said there was a large group of armed men gathered to watch the execution of six Afghans accused of cooperating with the government. Some six senior Taliban commanders were present, including Mansoor Dadullah, brother of Mullah Dadullah, the fierce Taliban commander for southern Afghanistan who was killed in a raid by British special forces in May. Some of the commanders and a number of foreign Taliban fighters had been killed in the air strike, Azimy said, but it was not yet clear if Dadullah was among them.
More on the Dadullahs here; a search for Daddullah at The Fourth Rail here.