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US kills Taleban leader – Potential successor likely hostile to negotiation

This photo taken by a freelance photographer Abdul Salam Khan using his smartphone on May 22, purports to show the destroyed vehicle in which Mullah Mohammad Akhtar Mansour
This photo taken by a freelance photographer Abdul Salam Khan using his smartphone on May 22, purports to show the destroyed vehicle in which Mullah Mohammad Akhtar Mansour

QUETTA, Pakistan, May 22, (Agencies): Taleban supremo Mullah Akhtar Mansour was killed in a US drone attack in Pakistan, senior militant sources told AFP Sunday, adding that an insurgent assembly was underway to decide on his successor. Saturday’s bombing raid, the first known US assault on a top Afghan Taleban leader on Pakistani soil, marks a major blow to the militant movement which saw a new resurgence under Mansour.

The elimination of Mansour, who rose to the rank of leader nine months earlier after a bitter internal leadership struggle, could also scupper any immediate prospect of peace talks. “I can say with good authority that Mullah Mansour is no more,” a senior Taleban source told AFP. Mansour’s death, which risks igniting new succession battles within the fractious group, was confirmed by two other senior figures who said its top leaders were gathering in Quetta to name their future chief.

The Taleban sources said that Sirajuddin Haqqani, leader of the dreaded Haqqani network and one of Mansour’s deputies, was among the frontrunners, adding that Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar was also in contention. Both figures are said to be close to the Pakistani military establishment, which has historically nurtured and supported the Taleban The Taleban have not commented officially on Mansour’s death or the leadership succession. Haqqani would likely prove an even more implacable foe of beleaguered Afghan government forces and their US allies.

Haqqani, who has a $5 million US bounty on his head, is widely seen by US and Afghan officials as the most dangerous warlord in the Taleban insurgency, responsible for the most bloody attacks, including one last month in Kabul in which 64 people were killed.

If Haqqani is confirmed as the next Taleban leader it may be seen as fitting for the scion of a family that has been famously involved in Afghanistan’s decades of bloodshed. His father, Jalaluddin Haqqani, was a heavily bearded leader of the mujahideen who fought the Soviet troops that invaded Afghanistan in 1979. A former US Congressman, Charlie Wilson, once called Jalaluddin “goodness personified” and he was held in such high esteem he visited the White House when Ronald Reagan was president.

His son is seen as even more ruthless. US officials had said they had no definitive proof of his death in multiple drone strikes, authorised by President Barack Obama, in the remote Pakistani town of Ahmad Wal in Balochistan province.

But both Afghanistan’s main spy agency, and the country’s Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, asserted that Mansour had been killed in the attack. “Mansour was being closely monitored for a while… until he was targeted along with other fighters aboard a vehicle,” Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security said in a statement. Pakistan on Sunday lambasted the US over the drone attack, calling it a violation of its sovereignty and asserting that information about it was shared with its prime minister and army chief only after the raid. Pakistani security officials said they recovered two bodies charred beyond recognition from a smouldering vehicle at the scene of the attack.

The passenger, suspected to have been Mansour, was said to be returning from Iran and was using a Pakistani passport in the name of Muhammad Wali. The driver — who also died in Saturday’s attack — was a civilian who worked for a local car rental company, according to the officials, contradicting the US account that he was a “second combatant”. Mansour was formally appointed head of the Taleban in July last year following the revelation that the group’s founder Mullah Omar had been dead for two years.

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