WASHINGTON / KABUL: The United States carried out an air strike on the leader of the Afghan Taliban, probably killing him in a remote area just inside the Pakistan border in an operation likely to sink any immediate prospect for peace talks.
If confirmed, the death of Mullah Akhtar Mansour may open up a battle for succession and deepen fractures that emerged in the insurgent movement after the death of its founder Mullah Mohammad Omar was confirmed last year, more than two years after he died.
Saturday’s mission, which US officials said was authorised by President Barack Obama and included multiple drones, showed the United States was prepared to go after the Taliban leadership in Pakistan, which the Western-backed government in Kabul has repeatedly accused of sheltering the insurgents.
It also underscored the belief among US commanders that under Mansour’s leadership, the Taliban have grown increasingly close to militant groups like al Qaeda, posing a direct threat to US security.
Pentagon spokesperson Peter Cook confirmed a strike targeting Mansour near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region but declined to speculate on his fate.We are still assessing the results of the strike and will provide more information as it becomes available,” Cook said.The Taliban have made no official reaction but attention has immediately focused on Mansour’s deputy, Sirajuddin Haqqani, leader of a notorious network blamed for most of the recent high profile suicide attacks in Kabul.
“Based purely on matters of hierarchy, he would be the favourite to succeed Mansour,” said Michael Kugelman, an analyst at the Woodrow Wilson Institute, a Washington-based think tank. “But when it comes to the Taliban, nothing is clear cut and meritocracy is never the norm,” he said.
Haqqani, appointed as number two after Mansour assumed control of the Taliban leadership last year, has generally been seen as an opponent of negotiations and if he does take over, prospects of negotiations are likely to recede further.The Taliban are issuing routine statements about spring offensive but are neither denying or confirming the Pentagon’s claim. Their spokesman and the group’s other media persons did not respond to the queries.
Efforts to broker a new series of talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban had already stalled following a suicide attack in Kabul last month that killed 64 people and prompted President Ashraf Ghani to prioritize military operations over negotiations.
Afghan government Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah issued the highest level confirmation on Sunday that Mansour had been killedin an attack by US drones in Pakistan a day earlier.Taliban leader Akhtar Mansour was killed in a drone strike in Quetta, Pakistan, at 04:30 pm yesterday. His car was attacked
in Dahl Bandin,” Abdullah said in a tweet, referring to adistrict in Balochistan just over the border
with Afghanistan.Afghan spy agency says Taliban leader killed in drone attackAfghanistan’s main spy agency said on Sunday that Mansour was killed in a US drone attack inside Pakistan.
“Mansour was being closely monitored for a while… until he was targeted along with other fighters aboard a vehicle… in Balochistan,” the National Directorate of Security said in a statement.
Nawaz Sharif was informed before drone strike on Mullah Mansour, says Kerry
US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Sunday leaders of both Pakistan and Afghanistan were notified of the air strike but he declined to elaborate on the timing of the notifications, which he said included a telephone call from him to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
“Peace is what we want. Mansour was a threat to that effort and to bringing an end to the violence and suffering people of Afghanistan have endured for so many years now. He was also directly opposed to the peace negotiation and to the reconciliation process,” Kerry said.