The Guardian reports:
A top Taliban military commander described as a close associate of Osama bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Omar was killed in an airstrike this week close to the border with Pakistan, the U.S. military said Saturday. A Taliban spokesman denied the claim.
Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Osmani was killed Tuesday by a U.S. airstrike while traveling by vehicle in a deserted area in the southern province of Helmand, the U.S. military said. Two associates also were killed, it said.
There was no immediate confirmation from Afghan officials or visual proof offered to support the claim. A U.S. spokesman said “various sources” were used to confirm Osmani’s identity.
Osmani, regarded as one of three top associates of Omar, is the highest-ranking Taliban leader the coalition has claimed to have killed or captured since U.S. forces invaded Afghanistan to oust the Taliban regime in late 2001 for hosting bin Laden.
Perhaps they could have saved themselves trouble by killing him a lot earlier. There is a report that he was captured and released by US forces in July of 2002.
Late July 2002: Taliban General Reportedly Captured, but Released After Questioning US Special Forces apprehend Mullah Akhter Mohammed Osmani, a top general and one of the six most-wanted Taliban, in Kandahar. He is flown to a detention center north of Kabul for interrogation, but is released a few weeks later and escapes to Pakistan. Contradicting the statements of many soldiers in Kandahar, the Defense Intelligence Agency says it “has no knowledge that Mullah Akhter Mohammed Osmani was ever in US custody in Afghanistan.” [Washington Times, 12/18/2002]
U.S. troops say that the military mistakenly released one of the most-wanted Taliban leaders in Afghanistan in the summer based on faulty intelligence.
U.S. Special Forces soldiers said that in late July, a Green Beret A-Team, backed by about 20 local Afghan fighters, apprehended Mullah Akhter Mohammed Osmani as he left his compound at daybreak in a town west of Kandahar. Soldiers identified him as Osmani, handcuffed him and brought him by truck to Kandahar.
Osmani, among the top six most-wanted Taliban, was flown to a detention center at Bagram air base, north of Kabul, for interrogation, the Special Forces soldiers said. He was one of the Taliban’s top generals, leading thousands of troops as coalition forces ousted the hard-line regime.
But, according to these soldiers, Task Force 180 — the overall command in Afghanistan — released Osmani a few weeks later.
U.S. government spokesmen expressed skepticism about the soldiers’ account in written responses to The Washington Times.
This Washington Postarticle says that many Taliban leaders were allowed to escape to Pakistan:
The Taliban has been driven from power, but almost all its top leaders remain at large, in many cases through battlefield deals that exchanged the peaceful surrender of territory for the safety of the defeated commander…
Among the senior Taliban officials who appear to have made it into Pakistan are Obaidullah Akhund, the defense minister; Abdul Razaq, the interior minister; Akhter Mohammed Osmani, the military commander in Kandahar; Abdur Rahman Zahed, the deputy foreign minister; and Anwar Dangar, a top commander. Afghan intelligence officials said Razaq has been based in Chaman in southwest Pakistan, while Dangar has been in the Pakistani city of Peshawar, near the Afghan border, trying to bring together escaped commanders.