The US has told Pakistan that while it respects its territorial integrity, it will continue to conduct strikes to eliminate terrorists who target American soldiers, a day after Islamabad summoned the US ambassador to express concern over the drone strike in Pakistan that killed Taliban chief Mullah Akhtar Mansour.
Mansour was engaged in “specific actions, specific things …in real time” that posed “specific, imminent threats” to US and coalition forces in Afghanistan, Pentagon spokesman Capt Jeff Davis said.
“This was a defensive strike against an individual who was actively engaged in planning and conducting operation that were targeting US and Coalition personnel,” Davis said during a press conference yesterday.
While the US has been conducting similar defensive strike inside Afghanistan, this is probably for the first time that the US did a “defensive strike” inside Pakistan after the killing of Osama bin Laden.
The strike targetting the Afghan Taliban supremo deep inside Pakistan was carried out on May 21 by multiple unmanned drones operated by US Special Operations forces while Mansour was travelling in a vehicle in a remote area in the restive Balochistan close to the Afghan border while apparently returning from Iran.
Mansour, believed to be in his 50s, had emerged as the successor to Taliban founder Mullah Mohammad Omar, whose 2013 death was only revealed last summer.
Davis, however, asserted that the drone strike has not strained ties with Pakistan, despite Islamabad summoning US ambassador David Hale to express concern over the drone strike, which it described as a “violation of its sovereignty”.
Responding to questions on Pakistan hitting out at the US for the drone strike, State Department Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner said: “We certainly do respect Pakistan’s territorial integrity. But as we’ve said before, we will carry out strikes to remove terrorist who are activity pursuing, and planning and directing attacks against US forces.”
Davis said the location of the strike “required higher level of approval”.
“Ultimately this was an individual who was specifically targeting US and coalition personnel and had specifically engaged in operations in the past that resulted in US and coalition personnel being killed,” he said.
In a subtle warning to the Taliban, Toner said the strike “sends a clear message that those who target Americans and Afghan people are not going to be given a safe haven. And then also, that it know that there’s only one option for the Taliban and that is to pursue a peaceful resolution to the conflict”.
He said the death of Mansour does not mean defeat of the Taliban but it does send a “clear message”.