Washington/Kabul, May 22 (PTI) Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour was killed in a rare US drone strike inside Pakistan’s restive Baluchistan province, the Afghan spy agency said today, in a body blow for the insurgents and a major boost to fledgling peace process in the war-torn country.
Mansour and another combatant were targeted yesterday by multiple unmanned aircraft operated by US Special Operations forces as the duo rode in a vehicle in a remote area near the town of Ahmad Wal in Pakistan’s restive Baluchistan province close to the Afghan border, US officials said.
Afghanistan’s main spy agency said Mansour was killed in a US drone attack inside Pakistan.
“Mansour was being closely monitored for a while... until he was targeted along with other fighters aboard a vehicle... in Balochistan,” the National Directorate of Security said in a brief statement.
Speaking to reporters in the Myanmar capital Naypyidaw, US Secretary of State John Kerry said, “Mansour posed... an imminent threat to US personnel, Afghan civilians and Afghan security forces.”
Kerry said Mansour was also directly opposed to peace negotiations.
The US “has long maintained that an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned reconciliation process is the surest way to ensure peace... peace is what we want, Mansour was a threat to that,” Kerry added.
The Pentagon earlier confirmed it targeted Mansour in an operation authorised by President Barack Obama.
Mansour assumed the leadership in July 2015, replacing Taliban founder and the one-eyed reclusive long-time spiritual head Mullah Mohammad Omar in Pakistan in 2013.
“Mansour has been the leader of the Taliban and actively involved with planning attacks against facilities in Kabul and across Afghanistan, presenting a threat to Afghan civilians and security forces, our personnel, and Coalition partners,” said Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook.
“Mansour has been an obstacle to peace and reconciliation between the Government of Afghanistan and the Taliban, prohibiting Taliban leaders from participating in peace talks with the Afghan government that could lead to an end to the conflict,” he said.
The drone strike inside Pakistan was a rare one since US Navy Seals killed Al Qaida chief Osama bin Laden in a stealth raid in the Pakistani garrison city of Abbottabad in 2011.
“Since the death of Mullah Omar and Mansour’s assumption of leadership, the Taliban have conducted many attacks that have resulted in the death of tens of thousands of Afghan civilians and Afghan security forces as well as numerous US and Coalition personnel,” Cook said.
The United States informed both Pakistan and Afghanistan shortly after the strike, a senior White House official said.
In Kabul, Afghan CEO Abdullah Abdullah said that if Mansour’s death is confirmed major changes within the ranks of the Taliban could be expected as a number of Taliban leaders could join the peace process.