Ayaz Gul, Carla Babb
May 22, 2016
ISLAMABAD/PENTAGON—The Afghan intelligence agency confirmed that Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor was killed in a U.S. airstrike in Pakistan near the Afghan border.
Pakistan says it was informed by the U.S. after the drone strike was carried out but lashed out at Washington for violating its “sovereignty.” Islamabad did not immediately confirm that Mansoor was killed.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday during a visit to Myanmar that Mansoor was targeted because he posed “an imminent threat to U.S. personnel, Afghan civilians, and Afghan security forces,” and that Mansoor “was directly opposed to peace negotiations.”
Taliban officials have privately confirmed the death of their leader but are reluctant to be identified, saying any final determination will be made by the group’s so-called Rahbari Shura or leadership council.
The drone strike occurred Saturday in Dalbandin, Baluchistan, according to Afghan intelligence agency NDS.
Passport and IDs found
The Pakistani statement and doctors at Quetta’s Civil Hospital say two bodies were brought to the hospital, following what witnesses say was an airstrike on a taxi at Kochaki. The statement said the taxi driver’s body was released to his relatives.
A passenger in the taxi, who is believed to be Mansoor, was carrying a Pakistani passport and an I.D. card with the name Wali Muhammad. The picture on the Pakistani passport resembles Mullah Mansoor, some Taliban sources confirmed to VOA.
Images from the scene showed a destroyed car.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s office in Kabul said Sunday, “The Government of Afghanistan is in the process of reviewing the final details of this operation concerning the fate of Mullah Akhtar Mansoor and will publicly announce the results as soon as possible.”
It said the Taliban leader was “engaged in deception, concealment of facts, drug-smuggling and terrorism while intimidating, maiming and killing innocent Afghans.”
Earlier, a U.S. official who spoke on background said the strike was authorized by President Barack Obama. The official said several unmanned aircraft operated by U.S. special operations forces targeted a vehicle in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province.
Rare drone strike against Taliban fighters
Depending on the actual location of the strike, it could be the first time U.S. drones are known to have targeted Taliban fighters inside Pakistan’s Baluchistan province. All other known drone strikes inside Pakistan have occurred in the country’s federally administered tribal areas, a semi-autonomous region along the Afghan border where Pakistan’s military has battled militants for years.
The elimination of Mansoor will deal a critical blow to the Taliban, which has struggled with internal divisions over its leadership since July 2015 when the insurgent group announced its founder and first leader, Mullah Omar, had been dead for more than two years.
The United States has not designated the Afghan Taliban as a terrorist group. U.S. policy in Afghanistan generally allows coalition aircraft to target enemy fighters only when they can be identified as al-Qaida or Islamic State group loyalists, or when militants are directly threatening NATO personnel.
Earlier this month, a senior U.S. commander in Afghanistan told reporters that there are signs that al-Qaida terrorists have been working more with the Taliban since Mullah Mansoor took charge.
Brigadier General Charles Cleveland said, however, U.S. forces “are not in, necessarily, direct combat with the Taliban.”
Cleveland said that the expectation is that Afghan government forces are the ones mainly engaging the Taliban, and U.S. forces are there to help them.
On Friday, David Petraeus, the former commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan and former head of the CIA, called for loosening restrictions on U.S. airstrikes against Afghan Taliban fighters.
In an essay published in The Wall Street Journal, Petraeus and his co-author, military analyst Michael O’Hanlon, said because of the Taliban’s long ties with al-Qaida and the Haqqani network, its aims of overthrowing the Afghan government, and its continuing push to seize territory, the United States should rely more on air power to help defeat the group.
VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem contributed to this report from Islamabad.