President Barack Obama confirmed Taliban chief Mullah Akhtar Mansour was killed in a US air strike, hailing his death as an “important milestone” in efforts to bring peace to Afghanistan — but the strike was also an illustration of the tangled relationship between Washington and Islamabad.
Saturday’s bombing raid, the first known American assault on a top Afghan Taliban leader on Pakistani soil, marks a major blow to the militant movement, which saw a new resurgence under Mansour.
“He is an individual who as head of the Taliban was specifically targeting U.S. personnel and troops inside of Afghanistan who are there as part of the mission I have set to maintain a counterterrorism platform and provide assistance,” Mr. Obama said during a news conference in Hanoi, Vietnam. Killing Mullah Mansour, Mr. Obama said, sent a message that “we’re going to protect our people.”
“We have removed the leader of an organisation that has continued to plot against and unleash attacks on American and Coalition forces, to wage war against the Afghan people, and align itself with extremist groups like Al-Qaeda,” the US president said in a statement.
To many outside experts, it sent an equally powerful message to Pakistan.
“The administration is no longer worried about blowing up anything,” said Vali Nasr, a former State Department official who worked on Pakistan. “This is literally carrying out an operation, not against an Arab terrorist leader, but against a Pashtun ally of Pakistan, inside Pakistani territory.”
On Monday, May 23, the Pakistani Foreign Ministry summoned the American ambassador, David Hale, to lodge a protest for what it said was a “violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty.” The killing would obstruct multiparty efforts to negotiate a settlement between the Taliban and the Afghan government, it said.
Obama, who is on a three day visit to Vietnam, said Mansour had rejected efforts “to seriously engage in peace talks and end the violence that has taken the lives of countless innocent Afghan men, women and children.”
He called on the Taliban’s remaining leadership to engage in peace talks as the “only real path” to ending the attritional conflict.
Mansour was elevated to the leadership of the Taliban in July 2015 following the revelation that the group’s founder Mullah Omar had died two years earlier.
He was killed on Saturday near the town of Ahmad Lal in Pakistan’s south western Balochistan province, when missiles fired from a drone struck the car he was travelling in.
It was believed to be the first time the United States has targeted a senior Taliban figure in Pakistan.