Ayaz Gul, Carla Babb
May 23, 2016
ISLAMABAD/PENTAGON—U.S. President Barack Obama said the death of Taliban chief Mullah Akhtar Mansoor “removed the leader of an organization that has continued to plot against and unleash attacks on American and coalition forces.”
Obama discussed the killing of the Afghan Taliban leader during a news conference Monday in Hanoi. He said Mansoor had rejected efforts by the Afghan government “to seriously engage in peace talks and end the violence that has taken the lives of countless innocent Afghan men, women and children.”
Obama urged the Taliban to join the Afghan government in a “reconciliation process that leads to lasting peace and stability.”
The U.S. leader made the comments one day after the Afghan intelligence agency confirmed Mansoor was killed in a U.S. airstrike in Pakistan near the Afghan border.
“Removing Mansoor from the battlefield eliminates one roadblock to peace in Afghanistan,” Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said in a statement Monday.
Pakistan said 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.
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 ID card with the name Wali Muhammad. The picture on the Pakistani passport resembles 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.
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 semiautonomous 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 reportersthat 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.
White House correspondent Cindy Saine contributed to this report from Hanoi, and VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem contributed to this report from Islamabad.