Britain and its Nato allies claimed a major victory over Taliban insurgents in southern Afghanistan yesterday as US forces reported that the Taliban's military chief in the region had been killed in an air strike.
Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Osmani, one of the Taliban's most senior leaders, with close links to Osama bin Laden, was said to have died on Tuesday in Helmand province, the scene of bitter fighting involving British troops last summer. Mullah Mohammad Omar, the Taliban's shadowy leader, who like bin Laden remains at large, declared Osmani his heir in 2001.
A US military spokesman, Colonel Tom Collins, said the Taliban leader was killed, along with two associates, when their car was destroyed on an isolated desert road. "Mullah Os-mani is the highest- ranking Tal-iban leader that we've ever killed," he said. "His death is very significant, and will hit the Taliban's operations." He commanded the Taliban in its southern heartland, including Helmand and Kandahar provinces, during the heaviest fighting Afghanistan has seen since the Taliban and its al-Qa'ida allies were ousted from power in 2001. Britain significantly increased its military commitment in the country earlier this year, with the deployment of 4,000 troops in Helmand. Until 2006 only two British soldiers had been killed in combat in Afghanistan, but 19 more have died in Helmand in recent months. British commanders will hope that the removal of one of the Taliban's top figures might disrupt the movement's resurgence, and weaken the spring offensive expected after the traditional lull in fighting during the Afghan winter.
The Taliban immediately denied that Mullah Osmani was dead, saying he was …