President Obama said Monday he made the call to kill Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour in Pakistan this week because the Taliban leader was specifically targeting U.S. troops and other personnel in Afghanistan.
But the strike does not mean the U.S. is jumping back into regular combat operations in the region, Obama said during a news conference on a trip through Asia.
"This does not represent a shift in our approach," Obama said, emphasizing that the U.S. mission is to "help Afghanistan secure its own country."
The remarks were the first U.S. confirmation that Mansour was killed in the airstrike, which hit the car he was traveling in near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border on Sunday.
U.S. officials believe that Mansour was a primary obstacle standing in the way of the Taliban's joining in the peace process in Afghanistan, and they hope his potential successors might be more inclined to participate.
Instability in the country has forced the Obama administration to delay plans to withdraw troops still stationed there. A spike in insurgent attacks pushed civilian casualties in Afghanistan last year to the highest level since the United Nations began keeping track several years ago.
On Monday, Obama said that Mansour had been an impediment to peace negotiations.
But it was Mansour's threat to Americans in Afghanistan that compelled him to order the strike, Obama said.
"We're going to protect our people," Obama said. "And that is exactly the message that has been sent."