Afghan Taliban leader likely killed in U.S. drone strike

Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, Afghan Taliban militants' leader, is seen in this undated handout photograph by the Taliban.
Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, Taliban militants' leader, is seen in this undated handout photograph by the Taliban.

The United States has carried out an air strike on the leader of the Afghan Taliban, probably killing him in a remote border area just inside Pakistan, in an operation likely to dash any immediate prospect for peace talks.

If confirmed, the death of Mullah Akhtar Mansour may trigger a battle for succession and deepen fractures that emerged in the insurgent movement after the death of its founder, Mullah Mohammad Omar, was confirmed last year, more than two years after he died.

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Saturday’s strike, which U.S. officials said was authorized by President Barack Obama and included multiple drones, showed the United States was prepared to go after the Taliban leadership in Pakistan, which the Western-backed government in Kabul has repeatedly accused of sheltering the insurgents.

It also underscored the belief among U.S. commanders that under Mansour’s leadership, the Taliban have grown increasing close to militant groups like al Qaeda, posing a direct threat to U.S. security.

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“The United States conducted a precision air strike that targeted Taliban leader Mullah Mansour in a remote area of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border,” U.S Secretary of State John Kerry told a news conference while on a visit to Myanmar.

Mansour posed a “continuing, imminent threat” to U.S. personnel and Afghans, he said.

“If people want to stand in the way of peace and continue to threaten and kill and blow people up, we have no recourse but to respond and I think we responded appropriately,” Kerry said.

Kerry did not confirm whether the strike had killed Mansour. A Pentagon spokesman said earlier the results of the strike were being assessed.

The Afghan government also said Mansour’s death had not been confirmed though a spokesman for President Ashraf Ghani said it seemed he was dead. Top officials said privately they believed he had been killed.

The Afghan Taliban have made no official statement but two commanders close to Mansour denied he was dead.


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