Kabul: The Afghan Taliban have confirmed the death of leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor after the US military announced he was the target of a drone strike in Pakistan.
Mullah Abdul Rauf, a senior commander of the militant group, told the Associated Press on Sunday that Mansoor died in the strike on Friday night. Rauf said the strike took place “in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area”.
The office of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani confirmed the strike but did not confirm Mansour’s death, though the country’s chief executive, Abdullah Abdullah, said Mansour was “more than likely” dead.
On Saturday the US Department of Defense said it had conducted the strike targeting Mansoor “in a remote area of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region”. It did not confirm Mansoor’s death, but an official told the Associated Press he was believed killed along with another male in the attack, which took place south-west of the Pakistani town of Ahmad Wal.
The Pentagon statement said Mansoor was “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”.
Mansoor was “an obstacle to peace and reconciliation between the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban”, the Pentagon said, “prohibiting Taliban leaders from participating in peace talks with the Afghan government that could lead to an end to the conflict”.
It is unusual for the US to offer such detailed commentary about a drone strike in Pakistan. Because drones are part of a highly classified CIA programme, officials usually say they are unable to even acknowledge the use of the aircraft, let alone confirm who was targeted.
US officials said the Saturday drone strike was near the town of Ahmad Wal. It appeared to be the first ever known strike in the vast southern province of Balochistan. Nearly all previous drone attacks have been tightly constrained to specific areas of North and South Waziristan – tribal agencies bordering Afghanistan where the US is thought to have negotiated secret arrangements with Pakistan.
It would be an extraordinary step for the US to range so far out of bounds without a nod from Islamabad, particularly given the strong assistance Pakistan is thought to have given to Mansoor to win the power struggle that rocked the Taliban after it was revealed former leader Mullah Omar was dead.
To the anger of the government in Kabul, Pakistan had insisted that it would not use force against the Taliban leadership but instead wanted to try to coax them to join peace talks.
The Pakistani policy had conspicuously failed to deliver results. Diplomats from Afghanistan, the US, China and Pakistan held their fifth “quadrilateral” peace discussions only on Wednesday, but with little prospect of the Taliban ever sending representatives.
The issue of drones has in the past greatly aggravated the relationship between Washington and Islamabad.
Although relations between the two countries have been reasonably friendly in the last two years, top foreign affairs official Sartaj Aziz recently admitted to deep disagreements after Washington announced restrictions on the sale of advanced fighter jets.
In August a Taliban commander who asked to stay anonymous said Mansoor was a relative moderate, “known among fighters in the field as more into peace talks than Mullah Omar, and less strict”.
Mansoor was a founding member of the Taliban, who knew Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden personally. He emerged as leader after Omar’s death, following a period of internal dissension.
In December he was reported to have been injured in a gunfight between insurgent factions in Pakistan.
The Pentagon statement added: “Since the death of Mullah Omar and [Mansoor’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.”
In Afghanistan on Saturday, a police official said six police were shot and killed by colleagues who turned their guns on them at a checkpoint in the volatile southern Uruzgan province.
Mohammad Hasham, head of police in the Charchino district, told the Associated Press the shooting happened in the early hours. Three of the shooters escaped the scene, he said, taking weapons and vehicles with them.
The incident followed another in the capital, Kabul, on Friday, when an Afghan security guard at a United Nations compound shot two Nepalese guards, killing one.
In southern Zabul province on Thursday, eight policemen were shot dead by a colleague. The Taliban, who have been fighting the Kabul government for 15 years, are often behind such attacks.