Afghanistan confirms death of Taliban leader

KABUL, Afghanistan -- The Afghan intelligence agency confirmed Sunday that the leader of the Taliban, Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan.

KABUL, Afghanistan - The Afghan intelligence agency confirmed Sunday that the leader of the Taliban, Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan.

It was the first government confirmation of statements by U.S. officials that Mansour had been killed Saturday in the attack, which was authorized by President Barack Obama. The Taliban leader was traveling with another man in a car along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, U.S. officials said.
The National Directorate of Security, the Afghan intelligence agency, said in a statement that Mansour “was killed as a result of a 3:45 p.m. airstrike yesterday afternoon, in the Dal Bandin area of Pakistan’s Baluchistan province.”
The Taliban did not immediately comment on the announcement.
Mansour was appointed to lead the group last summer after the Taliban confirmed that its founder, Mullah Mohammad Omar, had died. Mansour immediately confronted a power struggle that has left the insurgent movement –– which had been largely cohesive under Omar –– more divided than ever.
Once regarded as a proponent of ending hostilities against Afghan and U.S.-led international forces, and entering into peace talks, Mansour led the Taliban at a time when the group sought to gain more territory in northern and southern Afghanistan and prompted the White House to delay plans to withdraw the remaining 9,800 U.S. troops in the country.
As Taliban attacks increased, particularly in Kunduz and Helmand provinces, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s efforts to start negotiations –– supported by the U.S., China and Pakistan –– failed to make progress. At the latest meeting of the four-nation group, the Afghan ambassador to Pakistan, Omar Zakhilwal, described the Taliban as “irreconcilable.”
Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said Mansour had become “an obstacle to peace and reconciliation between the Afghan government and the Taliban, prohibiting Taliban leaders from participating in peace talks with the Afghan government.”

Afghanistan’s chief executive, Abdullah Abdullah, said Sunday Mansour was “the main figure preventing the Taliban from joining in the peace process” and “intensified violence against ordinary civilians.” Last year saw the highest numbers of civilian casualties in Afghanistan since the United Nations began keeping records several years ago.
The comments appeared to be a justification for Obama’s attack order because the U.S. government has not labeled the Taliban a terrorist group and has said in the past that it would not target members of the group in airstrikes unless they posed a direct threat to U.S. forces or interests.
In 2011, Vice President Joe Biden said: “The Taliban per se is not our enemy.”

In Baluchistan province, Pakistani authorities did not immediately comment on the reports of Mansour’s death. Residents reached by telephone said a Toyota coming from Taftan, a town near the Pakistani border with Iran, was targeted on a highway about 40 miles from the border and two people inside were killed.
Bodies were taken to a government-run hospital and were expected to be shifted to Quetta, the provincial capital, for autopsy, officials said.
While the U.S. has frequently conducted airstrikes against suspected militants inside Pakistan with tacit Pakistani government support, this was a rare U.S. attack outside the northern tribal areas. It was not immediately clear whether Pakistani authorities were informed of the strike in advance.
In 2011, U.S.-Pakistani relations soured after U.S. forces secretly raided former Osama bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad, killing the former Al Qaeda leader.

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