Afghan Taliban supremo Mullah Akhtar Mansour was killed in a rare US drone strike deep inside Pakistan, Afghanistan announced today, inflicting a body blow to the insurgents and removing a major “threat” to the fragile peace process in the war-torn country.
Mansour and another militant were targeted in a precision air strike by multiple unmanned drones operated by US Special Operations forces yesterday as the duo rode in a vehicle in a remote area near Ahmad Wal town in the restive Baluchistan province close to the Afghan border, US officials said.
The drone strike, which US officials said was authorised by President Barack Obama, showed America was ready to target the Taliban leadership in Pakistan, which Afghanistan has repeatedly accused of sheltering the militants.
Afghanistan’s main spy agency said Mansour, said to be in his early 50s, was killed in a US drone attack that struck his vehicle on the main road in Dalbandi area of Balochistan around 3:45pm on Saturday.
“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 today.
Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah and defence ministry spokesman Daulat Waziri also said that Mansour had been killed.
Addressing a press conference in the Afghan capital, he called on the group to select a new leader and then come to Kabul and act like a political party.
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 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,” he said.
The Pentagon earlier confirmed it targeted Mansour.
“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.