The Taliban in Afghanistan confirmed on Sunday that the group's leader, Mullah Mohammed Akhtar Mansour, was killed in a US drone strike on Saturday.
Senior commander Mullah Abdul Rauf, who recently reconciled with Mansour after initially rebelling against his ascension to the leadership, told The Associated Press that Mansour died in the strike late on Friday "in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area."
Earlier in the day Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah said that Mansour is "more than likely" dead after the US carried out the strike, likely killing Mansour on the Pakistani side of the remote border region with Afghanistan.
Speaking live on television as he chaired a Cabinet meeting, Abdullah said Mansour's death would have a positive impact on attempts to bring peace to Afghanistan, where the Taliban have been waging an insurgency for 15 years.
Mansour was "the main figure preventing the Taliban joining the peace process," Abdullah said. "From the day he took over the Taliban following the death of Mullah Omar, he intensified violence against ordinary citizens, especially in Afghanistan."
His death could have implications for stalled peace negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan Government as well as political repercussions within the Taliban, where rival factions rejected Mansour's leadership after he publicly assumed the title of his predecessor, Mullah Omar. Omar's death was only disclosed last July after being kept secret for more than two years.
Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook, confirming the strike targeting Mansour, said Mansour had prohibited Taliban leaders from participating in peace talks with the Afghan Government.
"We are still assessing the results of the strike and will provide more information as it becomes available," Cook said.
As the news spread, Lindsey Graham – a US Senator from South Carolina – said he was glad the Taliban leader has faced justice. "Mansour has terrorized the Afghan people as well as Coalition forces," he said in a post on his official Twitter account.
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) May 21, 2016
Multiple US drones targeted Mansour and other men as they rode in a vehicle in a remote area southwest of the town of Ahmad Wal, an official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
US special operations forces operated the drones in a mission authorised by US President Barack Obama, he added.
A State Department official said both Pakistan and Afghanistan were notified of the strike, but did not disclose whether that notification was prior to it being carried out.
"The opportunity to conduct this operation to eliminate the threat that Mansour posed was a distinctive one, and we acted on it," the official said.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking in Myanmar on Sunday, said Mansour "posed a continuing imminent threat to US personnel in Afghanistan, Afghan civilians, Afghan security forces" and members of the US/NATO coalition.
He said the air strike which killed Mansour "sends a clear message to the world that we will continue to stand with our Afghan partners."
"Peace is what we want, Mansur was a threat to that effort," Kerry said. "He also was directly opposed to peace negotiations and to the reconciliation process. It is time for Afghans to stop fighting and to start building a real future together."
It is not clear who will take over leadership of the Taliban, but a senior Afghan official, who spoke to AP on condition of anonymity, said there had been a recent shift in the balance of power from Mansour to his deputy, Surajuddin Haqqani, a leader of the notoriously brutal Haqqani network.
Meanwhile Mullah Mohammad Yaqub, the son of Taliban founder Mullah Omar, is popular, charismatic and believed to favour participation in peace talks. He controls the Taliban's military commissions in 15 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces and, like Rauf, recently reconciled with Mansour.
Security experts on possible replacement: Mullah Qayoom, Mullah Yaqoob, Mullah Baradar. All of them with positive stand on peace talks (2)
— Laura Cesaretti (@laucesaretti) May 22, 2016
But according to the unnamed official, there are indications that the group's ideological discipline and unity is slipping, noting that different Taliban factions have recently fought over control of drug smuggling routes.
"When they started fighting for power, that was the erosion of the legitimacy of their own rank and file," he said.
Late last year reports emerged that Mansour had been severely injured during a gunfight with former Taliban fighters.