Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor has been killed in a United States strike in Pakistan, according to multiple sources, a year after he was appointed leader of the group.
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It will be damaging to Taliban-Pakistan relations since Islamabad has been hosting the Taliban leadership on its territory, as confirmed by Pakistan foreign affairs adviser Sartaj Aziz.
Islamabad has been under pressure by the Afghan and the US governments to use its considerable influence over the Taliban to bring them to the negotiating table.
More recently US politicians obstructed the sale of F16 jets and other military aid to Pakistan on the grounds that it has been harbouring Taliban and the Haqqani network. The US administration has been exerting pressure on Islamabad to put tangible pressure on Taliban leadership to end their 15 years of armed rebellion.
Taliban Mullah Mansoor’s death can be seen as both a challenge and an opportunity for the Taliban. The armed group could either split into several splinter groups, or the vacancy at the top could be used as an opportunity to rally around a more unifying leader. The new leader is most likely to come from the battlefield, a hardliner, which means more war.
Afghan government It is a major psychological boost for the Afghan government. Analyst are of the opinion that if the Afghan government could service its own internal woes in 2016, that alone would be an achievement. The killing of Mansoor has thrown the government a lifeline. With the Taliban wounded, the Afghan government can only blame itself if it fails to put its house in order and come up with a quick military plan to go on the offensive.
Hashmat Moslih, Al Jazeera’s Afghan analyst
Afghanistan’s Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah said on Twitter that he was dead, the country’s spy agency also said he had been killed and a source close to Mansoor told Al Jazeera he believed the reports to be true.
Earlier on Saturday, US officials told several media organisations that drone attacks authorised by President Barack Obama had probably killed him and another Taliban member.
A spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani also said the strike appeared to have been successful.
The Taliban, which has a history of denying developments that could hurt its standing, has not yet issued an official statement though some of the group’s officials earlier denied the reports.
False rumours on the deaths of Taliban figures have circulated before. In December, the Afghan government said Mansoor had died after a gunfight. The Taliban later released an audio message “““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““`in which he denied he had been killed.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Sunday that the Taliban chief posed a “continuing imminent threat” to US personnel in Afghanistan and to Afghans, and was a threat to peace.
“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,” Kerry said.
Kerry said the leaders of both Pakistan and Afghanistan were notified of the strike but he did not say whether they were told before or after the attack took place. He said he had phoned Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Pakistan has denounced the US strike, adding that US did not inform Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif before carrying out the strike on its soil.
In a statement issued to the media, Pakistan’s foreign office said the drone strike was a violation of its sovereignty.
Pakistani security officials told AFP news agency they recovered two bodies charred beyond recognition.
The passenger, who is suspected of being Mansoor, was said to be returning from Iran and was using a Pakistani passport with the name Muhammad Wali.
US officials said the strike happened at about 10:00 GMT, which would have put it late on Friday night in the target area.
Several drones targeted the men as they travelled in a vehicle in a remote part of Pakistan near the border with Afghanistan, southwest of the town of Ahmad Wal, one US official said.
The Pentagon confirmed the US army had tried to kill Mansoor, but gave no information about his condition.
“We are still assessing the results of the strike and will provide more information as it becomes available,” spokesman Peter Cook said.
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“Mansoor has been an obstacle to peace and reconciliation between the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban, prohibiting Taliban leaders from participating in peace talks with the Afghan government that could lead to an end to the conflict.”
Al Jazeera’s Mohammad Vall, reporting from Kabul, said the timing of the strike was significant because the Afghan government warned it would take action against the group for not participating in the talks .
“They refused to show at the negotiating table, so the Afghan president recently said that now its time for us to act and go after them. The Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG), made up of representatives from Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the United States were urged to show their military role,” he said
“If it is proved that Mullah Mansoor has died in the strike, it would be a major blow to the Taliban.”
Omar Samad, a former Afghan ambassador to France and Canada, said the report had to be taken seriously.
“There has been an increase in the Taliban’s casualties,” Samad told Al Jazeera. “This particular news, if confirmed, is going to be a double blow to the Taliban – not only from a political leadership point of view, but I also think it will be translated on the battlefield.”
Mansoor was appointed Taliban leader last year after the death of Mullah Omar. He joined the Taliban in 1995, a year after it was founded, going on to hold important positions within the group.
Who is Mullah Akhtar Mansoor?
- Mullah Mansoor was born in around 1965 in a small village called Kariz in the Maiwand district of Kandahar. He belongs to Afghanistan’s Ishaqzai tribe.
- He fought against Soviet forces in Afghanistan for a brief period and was a member of Harakat-i-Inqilab-i-Islami, a former paramilitary group formed by Maulana Mohammad Nabi Mohammadi to fight them.
- One of his first jobs for the group was overseeing the security of Kandahar airport.
- In 1996-2001, when the Taliban was in power, he oversaw ministry of civil aviation.
- He rose to the upper echelons after Mullah Akhtar Osmani, a senior Taliban military leader and a close associate of Mullah Omar, was killed by US-led coalition forces in 2006 and Mullah Dadullah Akhund, the group’s top military commander, was killed in 2007 by British special forces.
- Between 2007 and 2010 he was able to stake a claim for higher office when Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the deputy of Mullah Omar, and Mullah Obaidullah Akhund, the Taliban government defence minister, were captured by the Pakistan Intelligence agency ISI.
- In July 2015, Afghan intelligence said that Mullah Omar had been dead for two years. Within hours of that announcement, the Taliban reportedly held a meeting and elected Mullah Mansoor as leader. But his appointment appeared to expose fissures in the group.
- A few months after his appointment, Taliban fighters seized the capital of Kunduz province after launching a daring raid from multiple directions. The attack was the biggest blow to President Ashraf Ghani since he took office a year before.
- In December 2015, Afghan officials said Mansoor had died after a gunfight. The Taliban later released an audio message from him in which he denied he had been killed.
- Mansoor refused to join any of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) meetings, made up of representatives from Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the United States and aimed at reviving a peace process.
- After his persistent refusal to join talks, Afghan officials told Al Jazeera that action against the Taliban would be on the agenda for the fifth round of peace talks in early May.
- US officials briefed the media on May 21 that a drone attack authorised by President Barack Obama had “likely killed” him and another Taliban member.
With additional reporting by Shereena Qazi.