The leader of the Afghan Taliban has been killed by a US drone strike in an area of Pakistan hitherto off-limits for the remote-controlled aircraft. Both the Afghan government and members of the insurgent movement said Mullah Mansour had been killed by an attack in the Pakistani Province of Balochistan in an operation involving multiple drones. On 21 May 2016, it was reported by a US State Department official that Mansour had been killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan. The official, who was not sanctioned to speak publicly about the attack, said Mansour and a second militant were believed killed when a drone hit a vehicle in which they were riding. The strike was approved by US President Barack Obama who said he hoped Mansour’s removal would lead to the Taliban joining a peace process.
The Afghan government, members of the Taliban, and President Obama all later officially confirmed his death. On 25 May 2016, Haibatullah Akhundzada was promoted to the top position in the Taliban. Earlier, the US Department of Defense said Mansoor had been targeted while travelling in convoy near the town of Ahmad Wal. The killing of the Taliban leader is likely to have major ramifications both for efforts to kickstart peace talks and for the often stormy relationship between the US and Pakistan.
An official from Nushki district said he recovered a passport and ID card of a man who closely resembles Mansoor from a bag that was blown out of destroyed car. According to the passport he went by the name Muhammad Wali and was a resident of Qila Abdullah in Balochistan. The government in Islamabad did not immediately respond to the news whilst Pakistan’s media, which often follows directions from the country’s security establishment, did not rush to condemn the strike as a breach of the country’s sovereignty.
Islamabad has long argued the only way to end the war in Afghanistan is to try to coax a united Taliban to the table for peace talks. It has dismissed calls to take military action against an insurgent group whose support networks operate freely in Pakistan, saying attempts to start negotiations must be exhausted first. In a highly unusual public statement about a drone strike, a Pentagon official described Mansour as “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”. But is far from clear whether Mansour’s death will smooth the way to an end to the conflict.