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An Afghan man looks at the body of Mullah Dadullah, who played a key role in day-to-day Taliban operations and was on the Taliban's leadership council. ((Allauddin Khan/Associated Press))

Mullah Dadullah —a top Taliban military commander thought to have ordereda number of abductions and beheadings —was killed while battling coalition forcesin southern Afghanistan, NATO officials confirmed on Sunday.

Afghan officials had announced Dadullah's death early Sunday. Later, NATO'sInternational Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) confirmed that Dadullahhaddied in Helmand province on Saturday in a joint operation involving British and Afghan troops and U.S. Special Forces,backed by NATO air support.

Dadullah "will most certainly be replaced in time, but the insurgency has received a serious blow," ISAF said in a statement.

"Mullah Dadullah was the backbone of the Taliban," said Asadullah Khalid, the governor of the former Taliban stronghold of Kandahar. "He was a brutal and cruel commander who killed and beheaded Afghan civilians."

His body was taken to Kandahar province and shown to reporters at the governor's compound, NATO said.

There, thebody layon a stretcher, covered with a pink sheet. An Associated Press reporter said the left leg was missing and there were three bullet wounds: one to the back of the head and two to the stomach.

Dadullah lost a leg in alandmine blast when he was a member of themujahedeen insurgency against the Soviet army that occupied Afghanistan in the 1980s.

He played a key role in day-to-day Taliban operations and had been hand-picked fora Taliban leadership council of 10 people, military lieutenantswho reported to the elusive Mullah Omar,CBC's Derek Stoffel said.

Death will have no long-term effect, expert predicts

However, Mustafa Alani, the director of security and terrorism studies at the Dubai-based Gulf Research Centre, said Dadullah's death would not have any long-term effect.

Alani noted that insurgent attacks in Iraq did not abate after the killing of al-Qaeda's leader in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, in June 2006.

"In this sort of organization, people are replaceable, and always there is a second layer, third layer. They will graduate to the leadership," Alani said.

"He is important, no doubt about it. Yes, it is a moral victory, but he's replaceable."

Rahimullah Yusufzai, a Peshawar-based editor for the Pakistani newspaper The News, said many Taliban fighters had been unhappy with Dadullah.

He said some believed hemaligned the militant group with brutal beheadings, a rash of kidnappings and boastful videos that starred himself shooting weapons and walking in Afghanistan's mountains.

In early spring, media reports saidDadallah had recruited hundreds ofsuicide bombers for a spring offensive against NATO and Afghan armyforces.

With files from the Associated Press