- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 13, 2007

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — The Taliban’s most prominent military commander, a one-legged fighter who orchestrated an ethnic massacre and a rash of beheadings, was killed in a U.S.-led military operation in southern Afghanistan, officials said yesterday.

Mullah Dadullah, a top lieutenant of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, was killed Saturday in the southern province of Helmand, said Said Ansari, the spokesman for Afghanistan’s intelligence service. NATO confirmed Mullah Dadullah’s death, calling it “a serious blow” to the insurgency.

Mullah Dadullah is one of the highest-ranking Taliban leaders killed since the fall of the hard-line regime after the U.S.-led invasion in 2001. His death represents a major victory for the Afghan government and the international coalition that struggle to contain a Taliban-led insurgency racking the south and east of the country.

“Mullah Dadullah was the backbone of the Taliban,” said Asadullah Khalid, governor of the former Taliban stronghold of Kandahar. “He was a brutal and cruel commander who killed and beheaded Afghan civilians.”

Mr. Khalid showed Mullah Dadullah’s body to reporters at a press conference in the governor’s compound. A reporter said the body, lying on a bed and dressed in a traditional Afghan robe, had no left leg and three bullet wounds: one to the back of the head and two to the stomach.

The reporter said the body appeared to be Mullah Dadullah’s, based on his appearance in TV interviews and Taliban propaganda videos.

But Qari Yousef Ahmadi, a purported Taliban spokesman, denied that the Taliban commander had been killed.

“Mullah Dadullah is alive,” Mr. Ahmadi said via satellite phone. He did not give details.

NATO’s International Security Assistance Force confirmed the death, saying Mullah Dadullah was killed in a U.S.-led coalition operation supported by NATO and Afghan troops after he left his “sanctuary” in the south.

Mullah Dadullah “will most certainly be replaced in time, but the insurgency has received a serious blow,” the ISAF said.

Rahimullah Yusufzai, a Peshawar-based editor for the Pakistani newspaper the News and an authority on the Taliban, said Mullah Dadullah’s death would be a huge blow for the militant group.

“I think this is the biggest loss for the Taliban in the last six years,” Mr. Yusufzai said. “I don’t think they can find someone as daring and as important as Dadullah.”

But Mr. Yusufzai and Mustafa Alani, director of security and terrorism studies at the Dubai-based Gulf Research Center, said the death would have little long-term effect. Mr. Alani noted that insurgent attacks in Iraq did not abate after the killing of al Qaeda’s leader in Iraq, Abu Musab Zarqawi, in June.

“In this sort of organization, people are replaceable, and always there is a second layer, third layer. They will graduate to the leadership,” Mr. Alani said. “He is important, no doubt about it. Yes, it is a moral victory, but he’s replaceable.”

Mr. Yusufzai said many Taliban fighters had been unhappy with Mullah Dadullah, saying he maligned the militant group with beheadings, a rash of kidnappings and boastful videos that starred himself shooting weapons and walking in Afghanistan’s mountains.

“They thought he had become too big for his shoes,” Mr. Yusufzai said.

A tribal leader from the Nad Ali district of Helmand province said ground forces and helicopters had surrounded a home in Mullah Dadullah’s home village of Kakeban, killing the Taliban leader and seven militants. A Helmand government official, meanwhile, said Mullah Dadullah was killed while traveling in his vehicle in southern Helmand.

Both officials said Mullah Dadullah was killed about 3 a.m. Saturday.

An intelligence service official said Mullah Dadullah was killed near the Sangin and Nahri Sarraj districts of Helmand province, an area that has experienced heavy fighting in the past several weeks, involving British and Afghan troops and U.S. Special Forces.

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