Afghan Taliban leader killed in US drone strike
Mullah Akhtar Mansour posed a ‘continuing imminent threat’ to peace, US secretary of state says
A 2015 file photograph shows Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour who has been killed in a US drone strike. Photograph: AP Photo/Rahmat Gul
The US has killed the leader of the Afghan Taliban in a drone strike in a remote area just inside the Pakistan border in an operation likely to sink any immediate prospect for peace talks.
Afghan government chief executive Abdullah Abdullah issued the highest level confirmation on Sunday that Mullah Akhtar Mansour had been killed.
“Taliban leader Akhtar Mansour was killed in a drone strike in Quetta, Pakistan, at 04:30pm yesterday. His car was attacked in Dahl Bandin,” Mr Abdullah said in a tweet, referring to a district in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province just over the border with Afghanistan.
Mansour’s death may open up a fight 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 US was prepared to go after the Taliban leadership in Pakistan, which the Western-backed government in Kabul has repeatedly accused of sheltering the insurgents.
Threat to peace
US secretary of state John Kerry said on Sunday that Mansour posed a “continuing imminent threat” to US personnel in Afghanistan and to Afghans, and was a threat to peace.
“Yesterday, the United States conducted a precision air strike that targeted Taliban leader Mullah Mansour in a remote area of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Mansour posed a continuing, imminent threat” to US personnel and Afghans, Mr Kerry told a news conference in the Myanmar capital.
“This action sends a clear message to the world that we will continue to stand with our Afghan partners as they work to build a more stable, united, secure and prosperous Afghanistan.”
Mr Kerry said the 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 Pakistani 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,” he said.
The Taliban have made no official statement but two commanders close to Mansour denied he was dead.
Nevertheless, attention has 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.
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 prioritise military operations over negotiations.
Mr Ghani’s office said Taliban who wanted to end bloodshed should return from “alien soil” and join peace efforts.