Mullah Akhtar Mansour, the Taliban chief who was killed in a US drone strike on May 21 took over as head of the Afghan Taliban last July and oversaw intensified attacks which left Afghan police and troops struggling to respond.
The strike targeting Mansour was perhaps the most high-profile US incursion into Pakistan since the 2011 raid to kill al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and sparked a protest by Islamabad that its sovereignty had been violated.
Mansour was killed when a US drone fired on his vehicle in the southwestern Pakistan province of Baluchistan. He had emerged as the successor to Taliban founder Mullah Mohammad Omar, whose 2013 death was only revealed last summer.
Mansour was initially thought to favour peace talks. But after becoming leader he repeatedly refused to come to the negotiating table.
For some Mansour was the obvious choice to succeed Mullah Omar, the one-eyed warrior-cleric who led the Taliban from its rise in the chaos of the Afghan civil war of the 1990s.
Like Omar he was born in the southern province of Kandahar, was part of the movement from the start and was effectively in charge since 2013, according to Taliban sources.
Mansour, born in the early 1960s, spent part of his life in Pakistan along with millions of Afghans who fled the 1979-89 Soviet occupation.
There he reportedly developed links with the country’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency, which nurtured the Taliban in the 1990s and even now is regularly accused of fuelling the insurgency.
He served as civil aviation minister in the Taliban government which ruled Afghanistan from 1996 until it was ousted by a US-led invasion in 2001, when he fled again to Pakistan.
Mansour repeatedly showed a canny ability to navigate between different strands of the Taliban movement, from the Quetta Shura to the “political office” in Qatar to commanders on the ground in Afghanistan.
In order to take the leadership he outmanoeuvred Mullah Yakoub, Omar’s son who was favoured by some commanders as new leader but was judged by others as too young and inexperienced at age 26.
But Mansour’s leadership got off to a rocky start. After news of Omar’s death two years previously was announced by Afghan officials, some insurgents were unhappy at Mansour’s deception. Others accused him of riding roughshod over the process to appoint a successor.
US President Barack Obama called the death of Mansour an “important milestone” in the longstanding effort to bring peace to Afghanistan.
The Taliban is the most powerful insurgent group in the war-ravaged country, where an estimated 11,000 civilians were killed or wounded and 5,500 government troops and police officers died last year alone.
The Taliban seized power in 1996 and ruled Afghanistan according to a harsh interpretation of Islamic law until the group was toppled by a U.S.-led invasion following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington.
Almost 15 years later, about 13,000 troops are in the country from a U.S.-NATO coalition, including around 9,800 Americans. While they are mostly focused on training and helping Afghan government forces battle the insurgency, about 3,000 troops are conducting counterterrorism operations against the Taliban and the extremist groups al-Qaida and the Islamic State.