Afghan Intelligence Says U.S. Drone Killed Taliban Leader in Pakistan
KABUL, Afghanistan — The killing of Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Akhtar Mansour in a U.S. drone strike was greeted Sunday by Kabul’s political leadership as a game-changer in efforts to end the long insurgent war plaguing Afghanistan.
In a rare show of unity, President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah both welcomed the news of Mansour’s death as the removal of a man who unleashed violence against innocent civilians in Afghanistan and was widely regarded as an obstacle to peace within the militant group.
Mansour, believed to be in his 50s, was killed when a U.S. drone fired on his vehicle in the southwestern Pakistan province of Baluchistan, although there were conflicting accounts whether the airstrike occurred Friday or Saturday. He had emerged as the successor to Taliban founder Mullah Mohammad Omar, whose 2013 death was only revealed last summer.
Mansour “engaged in deception, concealment of facts, drug-smuggling and terrorism while intimidating, maiming and killing innocent Afghans,” Ghani said in a statement on his official Twitter account. “A new opportunity presents itself to those Taliban who are willing to end war and bloodshed,” he added.
Mansour was “the main figure preventing the Taliban joining the peace process,” Abdullah said, speaking live on television as he chaired a Cabinet meeting. “From the day he took over the Taliban following the death of Mullah Omar, he intensified violence against ordinary citizens, especially in Afghanistan.”
Ghani and Abdullah serve in a so-called national unity government brokered by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry after a divisive 2014 election.
Kerry hailed the news of Mansour’s demise.
“Peace is what we want. Mansour was a threat to that effort,” Kerry said, speaking from Myanmar.
Mansour’s death clears the way for a succession battle. Whoever wins that battle will largely determine the direction for both the Taliban and the peace process.