Photo: AP

The leader of the Afghan Taliban, Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, was killed in an American drone strike in Pakistan this weekend, the New York Times reports.

In a statement released as he was meeting with government officials in Vietnam, President Obama called Mansour’s death “an important milestone.” The United States had “removed the leader of an organization that has continued to plot against and unleash attacks on American and coalition forces.”

“Mansour rejected efforts by the Afghan government to seriously engage in peace talks and end the violence that has taken the lives of countless innocent Afghan men, women and children,” Obama continued. “The Taliban should seize the opportunity to pursue the only real path for ending this long conflict—joining the Afghan government in a reconciliation process that leads to lasting peace and stability.”

Mansour had secretly taken control of the Taliban after former leader Mullah Omar died mysteriously at a hospital in Karachi in April 2013, running the organization in his name.

The drone strike this weekend took place in the southern Pakistani province of Balochistan, the Guardian reports. Mansour was apparently targeted while traveling in a convoy.

Local government officials in Ahmad Wal said a destroyed taxi belonging to man called Mohammad Azam had been recovered. The driver’s brother Mohammad Qasim said he did not know the identity of the passenger but that he had been on a long drive with a customer from Afghanistan.

An official from Nushki district said he recovered a passport and ID card for a man who closely resembles Mansoor from a bag that was blown out of the destroyed car.

According to the passport he went by the name Muhammad Wali and was a resident of Killa Abdullah in Balochistan.

The document showed that earlier on Saturday he had crossed into Pakistan from Iran at the Taftan border post, some 450km from where he was killed. He first entered Iran on March 28 immigration stamps showed.

His decapitated remains were being held in a military hospital in Quetta on Monday. As the search for his successor begins, Pakistan and the United States have continued to encourage the Taliban to engage in peace talks with the Afghan government.

“Peace is what we want. Mansoor was a threat to that effort,” Secretary of State John 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.”