Taliban Leader Killed: U.S. Airstrike Targeted Mullah Mansour, Per Afghan Government

Mullah Mansour

The Afghan government said today that a U.S. airstrike killed Taliban leader Mullah Mansour while he was in a remote area, riding in in a vehicle.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the statement came just after U.S. officials stated on Saturday that the Mansour was probably killed by a drone strike. It marked the first strike in the Dalbandin area of Quetta in Pakistan, and the second strike that occurred outside tribal areas. According to Taliban book author, Ahmed Rashid, Mansour’s death will likely create more problems between the U.S. and Pakistan.

“I think this is going to create more tension between the U.S. and Pakistan. This is a sign of the U.S. getting more and more frustrated with Pakistan’s inability or unwillingness to put pressure on the Taliban.”

Although the Afghan government confirmed Mansour’s death, the U.S. military has not yet stated that they know for sure he was killed. A statement released by the U.S. military spokesperson Charles Cleveland on Sunday indicated the following.

“We’re confident in our targeting, but at this point we can’t yet confirm he’s dead. We’re working hard to confirm, but I’m not sure how much longer it will be until we can confirm.”

The distrust comes from both the Afghan authorities and the Taliban’s actions in the past. In December of last year, Afghan officials stated that Mansour was killed in a firefight, which turned out to be false. Furthemore, the Taliban has a history of covering up the deaths of leaders, including hiding former leader Mullah Mohammad Omar’s death for over two years.

While The White House is awaiting official confirmation of Mansour’s death, the Taliban continues to deny it. A Taliban commander who’s close to Mansour stated that not only was he still alive, but that Mansour’s family said that they saw him over the weekend and he was fine.

Time reports that Mansour had only taken former control of the Taliban last year. Yet, Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said on Saturday that Mansour was “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.” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry added that Mansour is a “continuing imminent threat” to U.S. personnel in Afghanistan.

Mansour’s leading deputy, Sirajuddin Haqqani, will likely be targeted next. Haqqani, leader of the Haqqani network, is blamed for numerous deaths during the Afghan insurgency. His group is rumored to be responsible for the Kabul car bomb in April, which left 64 people dead.

Senior analyst Michael Kugelman said that Haqqani taking over the Taliban would be a “nightmare” for the U.S. However, he stated the process to find the next Taliban leader will more than likely be long and drawn out since the Taliban doesn’t have defined rules when choosing one.

“I imagine there will be a long, ugly, drawn out succession battle, and especially because unlike with the case of Mullah Omar, the loss of Mansour was sudden and unexpected. In a fragmented organization like the Taliban, there are no clear cut successors and there is no clear cut process to select one.”

The airstrike that left the Taliban leader killed was done by a unmanned aircraft, operated by the U.S. Special Operations forces.

[Photo by AP/Abdul Khaleq]