The United States has announced that it targeted Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Mansur in a drone strike on Saturday, and were investigating his fate.
The National Directorate of Security, Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, later confirmed Mansur’s death.
US department of defense press secretary Peter Cook said in a statement: “Today, the Department of Defense conducted an airstrike that targeted Taliban leader Mullah Mansur in a remote area of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region.”
“We are still assessing the results of the strike and will provide more information as it becomes available,” he added.
But unidentified officials told US media that Mansur was killed, along with another Taliban figure, in an attack carried out simultaneously by multiple drones. They said US President Barack Obama approved the operation, which targeted a vehicle carrying Mansur at a town in western Pakistan.
Mansur was an aide to former Taliban chief Mullah Umar and the transportation minister in the outfit’s 1996-2001 government. He took charge of the party after Umar’s death became public.
Press secretary Cook said in his statement, “Since the death of Mullah Omar and Mansur’s assumption of leadership, the Taliban conducted many attacks that resulted in the death of tens of thousands of Afghan civilians and security forces as well as numerous US and coalition personnel.”
Cook called Mansur “an obstacle to peace and reconciliation between the Government of Afghanistan and the Taliban”, claiming that he stopped the outfit from participating in peace talks.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s office had confirmed the strike earlier in the day, adding that they were investigating whether Mansur was killed. “The Afghan government is trying to gather details regarding the fate of Mullah Mansur,” the presidential palace said in a statement. “This drone strike shows that terrorists fuelling conflict will not be safe anywhere.”
A member of the Quetta Shura, the Taliban’s leadership council, told AFP that Mansur had been unreachable on his mobile phone since Saturday night. “We are not sure if something is really wrong or he purposely switched off his phone fearing an attack,” he said on the condition of anonymity.
Mansur was formally appointed head of the Taliban in July last year, following the revelation that Omar had been dead for two years. The group saw a resurgence under the firebrand supremo with striking military victories, helping to cement his authority by burnishing his credentials as a commander.
The new head also integrated the Haqqani Network, which has remained an independent arm of the Taliban, into the outfit — according its leader, Sirajuddin Haqqani, a larger role. News reports and analysts say Haqqani now calls the shots in planning Taliban military operations, which include targeting the local government and US-led coalition forces, in Afghanistan.
(With agency inputs)