The Afghan government and intelligence agency have both confirmed the death of Taliban commander Mullah Akhtar Mansour. The senior Taliban figure was reportedly killed during a US drone strike in Pakistan.
The Chief Executive of the Afghan government, Abdullah Abdullah, on Sunday confirmed the death of Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, following earlier reports by the US Pentagon that he had likely been killed.
The country's spy agency and the National Directorate of Security corroborated the report of Mansour's death. The militant group's leader was reportedly killed in a US drone strike on the town of Ahmad Wal in 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, referring to a Pakistani province bordering Afghanistan.
The office of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani confirmed that a US drone strike had been conducted near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, but did not confirm Mansour's death.
The drone strike targeted Mansour's vehicle, which at the time was carrying Mansour and one other person, the vehicle's driver, a US military source said. A Taliban source identified the driver as Muhammad Azam Hasanai, and added that the vehicle in which the two men were traveling was completely destroyed.
The Taliban have not commented on the attack. However, a member of the Quetta Shura, the Taliban's leadership council, told the Agence France-Presse news agency that Mansour had been unreachable on his mobile phone.
Mansour: a threat to peace negotiations
The drone strike was reportedly authorized by US President Barack Obama in a rare move infringing upon Pakistani terrain. The Taliban had been experiencing a resurgence in recent months, which could now be dealt a blow, as the leadership vacuum following Mansour's death is likely to cause infighting over his succession. Mansour had managed to consolidate power among Taliban leaders following a bitter leadership struggle over the past year.
Mansour led the Taliban after the death of the movement's founder, Mullah Mohammad Omar. Mullah Omar had been killed in April 2013, but the Taliban concealed this fact for two years. Mansour was Mullah Omar's deputy and was formally appointed head of the Taliban in July 2015 after the revelation of Omar's death.
Mansour had already been rumored to have been killed in December 2015, with reports of deaths among Taliban leaders always difficult to confirm.
However, with Mansour's death now apparently certain, prospects of peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government could be placed on hold indefinitely. The drone attack came just days after representatives from the US, China, Pakistan and Afghanistan had held another round of negotiations in Islamabad aimed at reviving long-stalled direct peace talks.
"Mansour posed an imminent threat to US personnel, Afghan civilians and Afghan security forces," US Secretary of State John Kerry said while on a visit to Myanmar. He added that the airstrike on Mansour sent "a clear message to the world that we will continue to stand with our Afghan partners."
"Peace is what we want. Mansour was a threat to that effort. He also was directly opposed to peace negotiations and to the reconciliation process. It is time for Afghans to stop fighting and to start building a real future together."
Mansour's two newly named deputies - influential religious leader Haibatullah Akhundzada and Sirajuddin Haqqani, leader of the deadly Haqqani network - could likely step up to fill the power vacuum. Haqqani's brutal leadership style could see a resurgence of violence in Afghanistan if he were to succeed Mansour.
Mullah Omar's son Mullah Yakoub is also favored by some Taliban commanders for the leader's post, although he has been deemed young and inexperienced for the position. Yakoub is in control of the Taliban's military commissions in 15 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces and is believed to favor participation in peace talks.
ss/tj (AP, AFP)