Taliban leader Mullah Mansur killed in southern Afghanistan

British forces have killed an alleged Taliban leader in southern Afghanistan, British and Afghan officials said Tuesday, in what they claimed was a major victory against the insurgency there.

A combat engineer gingerly digs up a shell casing in a graveyard beside a road between two of Canada's bases in southern Afghanistan on Tuesday.  Insurgents sometimes use the casings to make improvised explosive devices

A combat engineer gingerly digs up a shell casing in a graveyard beside a road between two of Canada's bases in southern Afghanistan on Tuesday. Insurgents sometimes use the casings to make improvised explosive devices

KABUL — British forces have killed an alleged Taliban leader in southern Afghanistan, British and Afghan officials said Tuesday, in what they claimed was a major victory against the insurgency there.

Mullah Mansur was killed in a strike by helicopters in Helmand province, the British Defence Ministry said.

Helmand government spokesman Daoud Ahmadi said Mansur was the aviation minister in the Taliban regime that was ousted by the American-led invasion in 2001.

British military spokesman Lt.-Col Nick Richardson said Mansur was “one of the most dangerous men in Helmand.”

“The attacks he helped plan and execute have probably killed or wounded hundreds of people, and most of them have been either Afghan civilians or police,” he said, adding his death Monday was a “serious blow” to the insurgency.

Helmand is a stronghold of Taliban militants, who control wide swaths of territory in the province. It is also the world’s largest opium poppy growing region, a major source of funds for the insurgency.

Earlier, a suicide bomber killed six Afghan family members, including two children, close to a U.S. military base just outside the capital, authorities said. It was the second bombing near the Bagram base in less than a week.

The Ministry of Interior said in a statement that suspected insurgents carried out a suicide bombing against the family while they were travelling in a car. It was unclear why they were targeted.

Also Tuesday, Afghan and coalition forces attacked a residential compound in Wardak province, killing six militants, the U.S. military said in a statement. It said the men were connected to a militant commander blamed for multiple attacks.

Insurgent attacks in Afghanistan are running at record levels, and the central government has little authority outside the capital, Kabul, despite the presence of more than 40,000 foreign troops.

U.S. President Barack Obama has ordered an extra 21,000 troops to the country to turn the deteriorating situation around. Most are heading to the south.

“This year and next will be the two most important years here since 2001 and 2002,” Gen. David McKiernan, the outgoing top general in Afghanistan, said in a final speech at U.S. and NATO command in Kabul.

In Washington, the army general chosen to take over from McKiernan told senators Tuesday he believes the war can be won if a proper counterinsurgency campaign is undertaken.

“I believe it is winnable, but I dont think it will be easily winnable,” Lt.-Gen. Stanley McChrystal said at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

He predicted that U.S. and allied casualties will increase as more American troops take on the insurgents in southern Afghanistan this summer. It will be important to make measurable progress within 18 to 24 months, he added.

“A classic counterinsurgency strategy, well resourced, is going to be required,” McChrystal said.