The Afghanistan military on Sunday confirmed that a US drone air strike killed at least 16 Taliban fighters in the country’s northern Kunduz province.
“A senior Taliban leader named Mullah Jannat Gul along with 15 of his men were killed after a pilotless plane of international forces struck two vehicles running along a road in Quash Tipa, Chahar Dara district Saturday night,” a military communique from Kabul said.
The strike comes soon after US President Barack Obama extended the mandate of US military powers in Afghanistan to a more aggressive, pro-active initiative.
Since 2015, US troops had been advising the Afghanistan military and not directly engaging the Taliban except in a defensive stance. Around 10,000 US troops remain in Afghanistan since foreign troops began leaving the country in 2015 and handing the security reins over to the government in the capital Kabul.
That figure is set to halve by the end of the year.
In the first reaction from the Islamic militant group, Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid promised a swift and “harsh” response to the drone attacks.
There has been heavy fighting in the Kunduz province since the Taliban launched a renewed offensive last year. In September, it seized Kunduz city in what was considered the most significant setback for the government in Kabul and its international allies since the Islamist group was routed in 2001.