KABUL, Afghanistan – The killing of the top Taliban commander Mullah Dadullah marks a major victory for the U.S. campaign at a time of flagging Afghan support over civilian killings, experts said Sunday.
As victims of Dadullah’s brutality celebrated his death, analysts called the killing the most significant Taliban loss since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion. But even NATO acknowledged that Dadullah, who directed suicide attacks, beheadings and an ethnic massacre for the Taliban, would soon be replaced.
Dadullah, a top lieutenant of Taliban leader Mullah Omar, was killed in the southern province of Helmand during a U.S.-led operation that also involved NATO and Afghan troops, NATO’s International Security Assistance Force said.
Kandahar Gov. Asadullah Khalid showed the body to reporters in Kandahar who saw a one-legged corpse with bullet wounds to the head, chest and stomach.
Qari Yousef Ahmadi, a purported Taliban spokesman, denied that the Taliban commander had been killed, but there appeared little doubt Dadullah was dead.
Dadullah is the second top-tier Taliban field commander to be killed in the past six months, after a U.S. airstrike killed Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Osmani in December.
Rahimullah Yusufzai, a Peshawar-based editor for the Pakistani newspaper the News and an expert on the Taliban, said Dadullah’s death was “the biggest loss for the Taliban in the last six years.” But he noted that even though the Taliban were demoralized after Osmani’s death in December, they quickly resumed attacks.
Mustafa Alani, director of security and terrorism studies at the Dubai-based Gulf Research Center, noted that insurgent attacks in Iraq did not abate after the killing of al-Qaida’s leader in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, last June.
“He is important, no doubt about it. Yes, it is a moral victory, but he’s replaceable,” Alani said.
NATO officials echoed that assessment, saying Dadullah “will most certainly be replaced in time, but the insurgency has received a serious blow.”