Pakistan denounces US strike that apparently killed Taliban chief Mullah Akhtar Mansoor near Afghan border.
Pakistan accused the United States on Sunday of violating its sovereignty with a drone strike against the leader of the Afghan Taliban, in perhaps the most high-profile US incursion into Pakistani territory since the 2011 raid to kill Osama bin Laden.
Afghanistan said the attack killed Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, which, if confirmed, could trigger a succession battle within the armed group that has proved resilient despite a decade and a half of US military deployments to Afghanistan.
Afghanistan's Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah said on Twitter that he was dead, the country's spy agency also said that he had been killed, and a source close to Mansoor said he believed the reports to be true.
The Saturday drone strike, which US officials said was authorised by President Barack Obama, showed that the US was prepared to go after the Taliban leadership in Pakistan, which the government in Kabul has repeatedly accused of sheltering the rebels.
Pakistan protested on Sunday, saying the US government did not inform Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif beforehand.
"This is a violation of Pakistan's sovereignty," Sharif told reporters in London.
A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, acknowledged that Washington only notified Pakistan after the strike.
The Taliban, which has a history of denying developments that could hurt its standing, has not yet issued an official statement though some of the group's officials earlier denied the reports.
False rumours on the deaths of Taliban figures have circulated before. In December, the Afghan government said Mansoor had died after a gunfight. The Taliban later released an audio message from him in which he denied he had been killed.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Sunday that the Taliban chief posed a "continuing imminent threat" to US personnel in Afghanistan and to Afghans, and was a threat to peace.
"This action sends a clear message to the world that we will continue to stand with our Afghan partners as they work to build a more stable, united, secure and prosperous Afghanistan," Kerry said.
The US stopped short of formally declaring Mansoor dead, a day after announcing the strike.
"At this point, we're not quite prepared to confirm that he was killed, though it appears likely," US Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told "Fox News Sunday".
It was unclear how long Mansoor might have been inside Pakistan before the strike. Pakistan's Foreign Ministry disclosed that a passport found at the site of the strike, bearing a different name, carried a valid Iranian visa.
It added that the purported passport holder was believed to have returned to Pakistan from Iran on Saturday, the day of the drone strike targeting Mansoor. Photos of the passport, bearing the name Wali Muhammad, seen by Reuters news agency showed a passing resemblance to some of the old photos available of Mansoor.
US officials said the strike happened at about 1000 GMT, which would have put it late on Friday night in the target area.
Several drones targeted the men as they travelled in a vehicle in a remote part of Pakistan near the border with Afghanistan, southwest of the town of Ahmad Wal, one US official said.
The Pentagon confirmed that the US army had tried to kill Mansoor, but gave no information about his condition.
Efforts to broker talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban had already stalled after a suicide attack in Kabul last month killed 64 people and prompted President Ashraf Ghani to prioritise military operations over negotiations.
But Ghani's office said on Sunday that the removal of Mansoor could open the door to talks and that Taliban members who wanted to end the bloodshed should return from "alien soil" and join peace efforts.
Who is Mullah Akhtar Mansoor?
- Mullah Mansoor was born in about 1965 in a small village called Kariz in the Maiwand district of Kandahar. He belongs to Afghanistan's Ishaqzai tribe.
- He fought against Soviet forces in Afghanistan for a brief period and was a member of Harakat-i-Inqilab-i-Islami, a former paramilitary group formed by Maulana Mohammad Nabi Mohammadi to fight them.
- One of his first jobs for the group was overseeing the security of Kandahar airport.
- In 1996-2001, when the Taliban was in power, he oversaw the ministry of civil aviation.
- He rose to the upper echelons after Mullah Akhtar Osmani, a senior Taliban military leader and a close associate of Mullah Omar, was killed by US-led coalition forces in 2006 and Mullah Dadullah Akhund, the group's top military commander, was killed in 2007 by British special forces.
- Between 2007 and 2010 he was able to stake a claim for higher office when Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the deputy of Mullah Omar, and Mullah Obaidullah Akhund, the Taliban government defence minister, were captured by the Pakistan Intelligence agency ISI.
- In July 2015, Afghan intelligence said that Mullah Omar had been dead for two years. Within hours of that announcement, the Taliban reportedly held a meeting and elected Mullah Mansoor as leader. But his appointment appeared to expose fissures in the group.
- A few months after his appointment, Taliban fighters seized the capital of Kunduz province after launching a daring raid from multiple directions. The attack was the biggest blow to President Ashraf Ghani since he took office a year before.
- In December 2015, Afghan officials said Mansoor had died after a gunfight. The Taliban later released an audio message from him in which he denied he had been killed.
- Mansoor refused to join any of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) meetings, made up of representatives from Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the United States and aimed at reviving a peace process.
- After his persistent refusal to join talks, Afghan officials said that action against the Taliban would be on the agenda for the fifth round of peace talks in early May.
- US officials briefed the media on May 21 that a drone attack authorised by President Barack Obama had "likely killed" him and another Taliban member.
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|Allen L. Jasson|