A U.S. drone strike targeting the Afghan Taliban’s commander, Mullah Akhtar Mansour, led to the leadership council meeting Sunday to discuss succession, two Taliban sources told Reuters. This has been the strongest indication by the group of its acceptance of Mansour’s death.
President Barack Obama, according to ABC, has released a statement confirming Mansour’s death. In the statement, Obama called Mansour's death “an important milestone in our longstanding effort to bring peace and prosperity to Afghanistan.”
Confirming the attack, reportedly authorized by Obama, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told a news conference Sunday, "Yesterday, the United States conducted a precision air strike that targeted Taliban leader Mullah Mansour in a remote area of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.”
The Afghan National Security Directorate (NDS), according to the BBC, said that Mansour had been killed in the Dalbandi area of Balochistan province — the first official confirmation of the killing of the Taliban leader. Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah and defense ministry spokesman Daulat Waziri also gave similar statements.
The Taliban, however, have not yet officially confirmed that Mansour was killed.
Mansour had replaced Taliban founder and spiritual head Mullah Mohammad Omar in July 2015.
The leadership council, or the Rahbari Shura, according to the Taliban sources, will discuss possible successors. Guerilla commander Sirajuddin Haqqani, who has a $5 million U.S. bounty on his head, is reportedly one of the names under consideration.
“Based purely on matters of hierarchy, (Haqqani) would be the favorite to succeed Mansour,” said Michael Kugelman, a senior associate at the Woodrow Wilson Institute think tank. Haqqani has been reportedly responsible for the most bloody of Taliban’s attacks, including one last month in Kabul, killing 64 people.
The son of Mullah Omar, Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob, former Guantanamo detainee Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir and Mullah Sheri were also cited by the sources as possible successors.
The attack was reportedly carried out on Pakistani soil and has led to protests by the nation against what it described as a “violation of its sovereignty.” According to Pakistan’s foreign ministry, the U.S. informed the Pakistani prime minister and army chief only after the strike was carried out.
The Afghan government had stalled peace talks with the Taliban following the April attack but is now looking favorably at this development.
A spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said: “Our hope in the wake of the strike is for the Afghan-led peace process to bring lasting peace and stability.” Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah said Mansour had been “the main figure preventing the Taliban joining the peace process.”