Tuesday 28 March 2017

Taliban leader who opposed peace is killed by US drone

Pakistanis gathered around a vehicle destroyed by a drone strike in which Afghan Taliban chief Mullah Akhtar Mansour was believed to be travelling in the remote town of Ahmad Wal in Balochistan, around 160km west of Quettat. Photo: AFP/Getty
Pakistanis gathered around a vehicle destroyed by a drone strike in which Afghan Taliban chief Mullah Akhtar Mansour was believed to be travelling in the remote town of Ahmad Wal in Balochistan, around 160km west of Quettat. Photo: AFP/Getty
Taliban-released photo of Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour. Photo: Getty

Eduard Gismatullin in Islamabad

Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour was killed when his vehicle was hit by a US airstrike in a remote border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Afghanistan intelligence agency has said.

In a statement, the National Directorate of Security, as the Afghan secret service is known, said the attack took place in Baluchistan province, in southwestern Pakistan, at about 3.45pm on Saturday.

It is believed to have been the first drone strike on Baluchistan, which could explain why Mansour was travelling in an unarmoured car without a convoy, decoys or bodyguards.

"Mansour posed a continuing imminent threat to US personnel in Afghanistan, Afghan civilians, Afghan security forces and members of Resolute Support," US Secretary of State John Kerry said while visiting Myanmar. "Peace is what we want. Mansour was a threat to that effort."

Mansour formally led the Taliban after the death was announced last summer of Mullah Mohammad Omar, the movement's founder.

Mansour, Mullah Omar's deputy, concealed the Taliban founder's death for over two years and ran the Taliban in his name until the death was eventually revealed by the Afghan government. The revelation caused wide fissures in the movement that Mansour had worked hard to mend.

Mullah Rauf was an early detractor of Mansour's but decided earlier this year to declare loyalty to him in the interest of unifying the movement.

Afghan chief executive Abdullah Abdullah said Mansour's death would have a positive impact on attempts to bring peace to Afghanistan.

Mansour was "the main figure preventing the Taliban joining the peace process," Abdullah said. "From the day he took over the Taliban following the death of Mullah Omar, he intensified violence against ordinary citizens, especially in Afghanistan."

The drone strike targeted Mansour's vehicle, which was carrying Mansour and one other person at the time, a US military source said.

Another ) source identified the driver as Muhammad Azam Hasanai.

Mansour's death has raised questions about the direction the Taliban will take.

A four-country process,with Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the United States, appears to have floundered, with Kabul refusing to send a delegation to the most recent round of talks, sending only the ambassador to Islamabad.

A senior Afghan official, who also spoke only on condition of anonymity, said Mansour controlled a substantial financial empire, largely built on smuggling drugs produced in southern Afghanistan's Helmand province.

The official said there had been a recent shift in the balance of power from Mansour to his deputy, Surajuddin Haqqani, a leader of the notoriously brutal Haqqani network which is affiliated with al-Qaida.

It is not clear, however, which commander or faction will take over the Taliban leadership .

Mullah Mohammad Yaqub, the son of Taliban founder Mullah Omar, is popular, charismatic and believed by some officials to favour participation in a peace talks. He controls the Taliban's military commissions in 15 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces and, like Rauf, recently reconciled with Mansour.

Irish Independent

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