Afghan Official: Senior Taliban Leader Mullah Brother Killed

Senior Taliban leader Mullah Brother was killed in a clash with Afghan and foreign troops in southern Afghanistan, an Afghan army officer said Thursday.

Mullah Brother, also known as Mullah Abdul Ghani, was killed in southern Helmand province, according to Maj. Gen. Ghulam Muhiddin Ghori, an Afghan army officer.

The report could not be independently verified, and a NATO official in southern Afghanistan said that they were not aware of the clash.

Mullah Brother was one of the top leaders of all Taliban forces in the country, when the hard-line Islamist movement ruled Afghanistan, and a close associate of Taliban's reclusive leader Mullah Omar. His current role in within the reconstituted Taliban movement was not clear.

If confirmed, his death would deal a serious blow to the resurgent Taliban militants, which have made a comeback following a U.S.-led invasion in 2001, which ousted them from power.

Meanwhile, a top U.S. commander in Afghanistan said Thursday that military force alone is unlikely to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan, noting that most insurgencies end with a political solution.

Maj. Gen. Robert Cone, who is in charge of equipping and training Afghan security forces to take over from international troops, said the local units were making good progress, but declined to say when they would be strong enough to allow foreign forces to go home.

Violence is soaring in Afghanistan despite years of counterinsurgency operations by international troops and millions of dollars spent in equipping the country's army and police units.

Cone cautioned that military force alone would likely not be enough to beat the Taliban and other militants battling foreign and Afghan government troops.

"You can say you defeated them in a single campaign ... but again given the complex nature of this environment, they might be back again the very next year," he told a media conference in the capital Kabul. "I think the real issue is probably not a military solution in the long term."

Afghan President Hamid Karzai earlier this year said he had met with unspecified Taliban militants in an attempt to reach a political settlement, but did not elaborate on the extent of the contacts.

Cone, who arrived in Afghanistan in July, said the "military will have a significant impact on the overall solution, but in reality most insurgencies are dealt with by political solution in the end."

Hundreds of former members of the hard-line Taliban regime, including a sprinkling of former senior commanders and officials, have reconciled with the government since they were ousted from power in the U.S.-led invasion in 2001.

But current rebel leaders have apparently refused to hold talks, and over the past year, thousands more fighters have joined the insurgency, which this year alone has left more than 3,900 people dead, especially in southern and much of eastern Afghanistan. The exact number of insurgents is unclear.

There are more than 42,000 Afghan Army soldiers, and some 75,000 police members, with plans to create a 70,000-man army and 82,000-strong police force by the end of 2008. There also are more than 50,000 foreign troops in the country, including U.S.-led coalition and NATO-led forces.

Formal talks with the Taliban would be politically very sensitive because of the close relationship top commanders are believed to have with Al Qaeda leaders, including Usama bin Laden.

In other violence Thursday, the U.S.-led coalition called in airstrikes to repeal an attack on their base in Uruzgan province by a large group of insurgents, leaving up to 11 suspected insurgents dead, a coalition statement said.

Also Thursday, unidentified assailants Thursday killed a British soldier and wounded two others in a routine patrol in the southern province of Kandahar, the British Ministry of Defense said. An Afghan interpreter working with the troops also was killed, it said.

On Wednesday, Afghan soldiers and coalition forces found and destroyed an insurgent-run drug lab after a brief fight in restive Helmand Province, according to a statement. The opium lab was the second of its kind found in the past four days in the province.

A significant portion of the profits from Afghanistan's booming drug trade are thought to flow to Taliban fighters who tax and protect poppy farmers and drug runners.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.