Islamabad: A top Taliban leader was killed in what is believed to have been a US airstrike in Afghanistan, Taliban officials said on Sunday.Also Read - PM Modi Gifts Hand-carved Box with Rogan Painting From Gujarat to Japanese Counterpart Kishida

Abdul Manan was the Taliban “shadow governor” for Helmand province in the south, a key territory for the group, which also gave him control over a large part of the group’s finances, reports Efe news. Also Read - Netflix Sees 3.6 Million Service Cancellations In US In Q1

Helmand is the centre of the country’s drug trade and the Taliban tax the drugs business. Also Read - China Hopes US President Biden's Visit To Asia Not Aimed At Beijing

Manan’s death on Saturday was confirmed by three Taliban officials.

His death would be the biggest loss for the Taliban since 2016 when the group’s leader, Akhtar Mansour, was killed in a US drone strike in western Pakistan.

The killing of Mansour sank the prospects for peace talks at the time as the Taliban resented the loss of its chief.

The latest airstrike was near the town of Sangeen in Helmand, Taliban sources said.

Manan was one of the most influential figures in the Taliban, considered a hardliner. His hold over the drugs business gave him an independent voice within the Taliban hierarchy.
He was considered the force behind the Taliban’s success in Helmand.

The Taliban’s hold on Helmand allowed more members of the movement to travel into Afghanistan from their base in Pakistan.

A spokesman for the Taliban, Zabiullah Mujahid, said he was checking the reports.

Army Col. David Butler, the spokesman for US-led international forces in Afghanistan, said the US was “looking closely into reports” that Manan had been killed in an airstrike