French news agency Agence France Presse reported on May 13: 'The Taliban's top military commander in Afghanistan, Mullah Dadullah, has been killed in fighting in the south. His body was shown to reporters in Kandahar, and Taliban sources confirmed the death, after initial denials. NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organisation] said Dadullah died in a clash with Afghan and Western forces in Helmand province.
Mullah Dadullah 'will most certainly be replaced in time but the insurgency has received a serious blow', the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force said. ISAF and Afghan troops have been engaged in a major operation in Helmand province since early March. But the Taliban commander was killed in an operation by the separate US-led coalition supported by ISAF.'
This is the second major success of the US-led forces against the Neo Taliban leaders. The first was the killing of Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Osmani, reportedly number 4 in the shura, on December 19, 2006, in an American airstrike in southern Afghanistan.
He was located while he was talking on a satellite telephone with someone in Pakistan. He was the Neo Taliban's important fundraiser from narcotic smugglers and others. He was the commander of Kandahar before 9/11.
Mullah Dadullah Akhund was a member of the 12-member shura of the Neo Taliban, which advises Mullah Mohammad Omar, the amir of the Neo Taliban, on ideological and military matters and one of the Pakistan-based triumvirate, which constitutes the command and control of the Neo Taliban's military operations in Afghanistan.
The other two of the triumvirate are Mullah Obaidullah Akhund, former defence minister in the pre-October 7, 2001 Taliban government in Afghanistan, and Jalaluddin Haqqani.
Pakistani sources had claimed on February 26 this year that Obaidullah had been arrested in Quetta. This claim was neither confirmed nor contradicted subsequently. One is, therefore, not yet certain of his fate.
The spring offensive, of which the Neo Taliban has been talking since September last year, has not yet materialised. The Neo Taliban's military operations against NATO forces in southern and eastern Afghanistan after the onset of spring have been as intensive as those of last spring, but they have not been able to deliver any knockout blow to NATO and Afghan forces, as repeatedly threatened by the Neo Taliban.
NATO and the Afghan security forces have thus far been able to withstand effectively the Neo Taliban's repeated attempts to cause a serious dent in their defences. They have even been able to keep the Neo Taliban forces on the run, with sustained harassing raids on their hideouts and launching areas, particularly in the Helmand province.
Dadullah's death, if confirmed, creates a gap in the top command and control of the Neo Taliban. He was a well-motivated and charismatic commander who successfully maintained the morale of the Neo Taliban cadres and kept recruits for suicide missions and conventional fighting flowing in.
His death is definitely a setback -- possibly temporary -- not only to the Neo Taliban, but also to Al Qaeda elements operating from the tribal areas of Pakistan.
He wielded considerable influence among the Pashtuns on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
He not only coordinated the Neo Taliban's operations in southern and eastern Afghanistan -- often personally leading them -- but also the security arrangements for Al Qaeda leaders taking shelter in the tribal areas.
The Neo Taliban should be able to get over this temporary setback. The question is, how soon?
On May 19 last year, the British Broadcasting Corporation had quoted Afghan sources as claiming that Dadullah had been captured. This proved to be wrong. In a paper after the BBC report, I had written an extensive profile of him. You can access it by clicking here:
B Raman is retired additional secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, the government of India, and presently director, Institute for Topical Studies, Chennai. He can be reached at email@example.com