A senior commander of the Afghan Taliban confirmed today that the extremist group’s leader, Mullah Akhtar Mansour, has been killed in a US drone strike.
Mullah Abdul Rauf, who recently reconciled with Mansour after initially rebelling against his ascension to the leadership, told The Associated Press that Mansour died in the strike late Friday “in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area.”
The office of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani confirmed in a statement that the strike took place but could not confirm Mansour’s death.
Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, however, said that Mansour is “more than likely” dead.
Speaking live on television as he chaired a Cabinet meeting, Abdullah said Mansour’s death would have a positive impact on attempts to bring peace to Afghanistan, where the Taliban have been waging an insurgency for 15 years.
Mansour was “the main figure preventing the Taliban joining the peace process,” Abdullah said. “From the day he took over the Taliban following the death of Mullah Omar, he intensified violence against ordinary citizens, especially in Afghanistan.”
Mansour formally led the Taliban after the death was announced last summer of Mullah Mohammad Omar, the movement’s founder.
Mansour, Mullah Omar’s deputy, concealed Mullah Omar’s death for more than two years, and ran the Taliban in his name until the death was revealed by the Afghan government.
The revelation caused wide fissures in the movement that Mansour worked hard to mend.
Mullah Rauf was an early detractor of Mansour’s but decided earlier this year to declare loyalty to him in the interest of unifying the movement.
Earlier, the US Department of Defense said a drone strike had targeted Mansour “in a remote area of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region.”
Afghan officials, who spoke on the condition that they not be named as they were not authorized to speak to media on the subject, said the drone strike took place in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province, in the Ahmad Wal area.
The Afghan government has long accused the Pakistani authorities of harboring and supporting the Afghan Taliban.
The drone strike targeted Mansour’s vehicle which was carrying Mansour and one other person at the time, a US military source said.
Another Taliban source identified the driver as Muhammad Azam Hasanai, and said the vehicle the two men were traveling in was completely destroyed in the drone strike.