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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S.-Led Forces Kill Top Taliban Leader

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 Sunday.

Mullah Dadullah, a top lieutenant of Taliban leader Mullah Omar, was killed Saturday in the southern province of Helmand, Said Ansari, the spokesman for Afghanistan's intelligence service, said. A NATO statement confirmed his death, saying it had dealt the insurgency "a serious blow."

Dadullah is one of the highest-ranking Taliban leaders killed since the fall of the hard-line regime following the U.S.-led invasion in 2001. His death represents a major victory for the Afghan government and the international coalition that has struggled to contain a Taliban-led insurgency wracking 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."

Khalid showed Dadullah's body to reporters at a news conference in the governor's compound. A reporter said the body, which was 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 Dadullah's based on his appearance in television 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," Ahmadi said by satellite phone. He did not give further details.

NATO forces confirmed the death, saying that after Dadullah left his "sanctuary" in the south, he was killed in a U.S.-led coalition operation supported by NATO and Afghan troops.

Dadullah "will most certainly be replaced in time, but the insurgency has received a serious blow," a NATO statement said.