WASHINGTON — Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour was targeted and "likely killed" Saturday in a US drone strike in a remote area of Pakistan along the Afghan border, a US official said.
The airstrike, authorized by President Barack Obama, also killed a second adult male combatant as the two traveled in a vehicle southwest of the town of Ahmad Wal, but no civilians were killed, the official said under condition of anonymity.
"Mansour was the target and was likely killed," in the strikes, which occurred around 6:00am (1000 GMT) and were carried out by multiple unmanned aircraft operated by US Special Operations Forces, the official said.
Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said in a statement that Mansour "has been the leader of the Taliban and actively involved with planning attacks against facilities in Kabul and across Afghanistan, presenting a threat to Afghan civilians and security forces, our personnel, and Coalition partners."
Mansour was appointed head of the Taliban in July 2015 following the revelation that the group’s founder Mullah Omar had been dead for two years.
"Since the death of Mullah Omar and Mansur’s assumption of leadership, the Taliban have conducted many attacks that have resulted in the death of tens of thousands of Afghan civilians and Afghan security forces as well as numerous US and Coalition personnel," Cook said.
Officials are still assessing the results and will provide more information when available, he added.
’Keep expectations in check’
Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution think-tank said Mansour’s death may help the US effort in Afghanistan "modestly".
"The war has been going on for so long, the Taliban has so many leaders and so much ability to function at the local level even without strong central guidance, that we would be well advised to keep expectations in check," he said.
US lawmakers welcomed the news and some called on the Obama administration to take a firmer stand.
"I appreciate President Obama for authorizing the attack," Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said, adding "I strongly encourage the Obama Administration to not withdraw troops until conditions on the ground permit their withdrawal."
Republican Senator John McCain, head of the Senate Armed Forces Committee, said he hoped "this strike against the Taliban’s top leader will lead the administration to reconsider its policy of prohibiting US forces from targeting the Taliban."
Part of movement from start
Born in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar sometime in the early 1960s, Mansour was part of the Taliban movement from its start in the 1990s and has effectively been in charge since 2013, according to Taliban sources.
He shuns public appearances. The few pictures believed to be of him show a thickset man with the dark beard and turban that are virtually the uniform for senior Taliban cadres.
He succeeded Omar, the one-eyed warrior-cleric who led the Taliban from its rise in the chaos of the Afghan civil war of the 1990s.
"Mansur 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," Cook said.
In addition to fighting on the ground and pressure from all sides to negotiate, the Taliban also faces the challenge of halting the expansion of the Islamic State group in Afghanistan, which has been recruiting disaffected fighters. — AFP