Islamabad/Kabul, May 22 (IANS) Taliban supreme leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour has been killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan, Afghan and Pakistani officials as well as the militant group confirmed on Sunday.
Afghanistan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah and Afghan intelligence agency besides Pakistani officials and Taliban militants said Mullah Mansour was killed in a US drone strike in Balochistan province of Pakistan the previous day.
Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS) said Mansour was killed on Saturday in a US drone strike at Ahmad Wal town of Balochistan province, Khamaa Press reported.
It was the first official confirmation regarding the supreme leader’s death.
Following the NDS statement, Abdullah and defence ministry spokesman Daulat Waziri confirmed that Mansour was killed in Saturday’s strike.
Earlier on Saturday, the Pentagon said Mansour was “likely” killed in a US drone strike authorised by President Barack Obama in Pakistan near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border town of Ahmad Wal.
The US had targeted a vehicle Mansour was travelling in, a Pentagon statement said.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said Mansour had posed “a continuing, imminent threat to US personnel”, Xinhua news agency reported.
He said the air strike sent “a clear message to the world that we will continue to stand with our Afghan partners”.
Earlier, Pakistan’s Urdu TV channel Samaa in a report on Sunday claimed that those killed in the US drone strike were a taxi driver and a passenger, and not Mullah Mansour.
Their bodies were brought to a hospital in Nushki, a district close to Ahmad Wal, Samaa said.
After conflicting statements about Mansour’s death, Pakistani officials and Taliban militants later confirmed the leader’s death.
Mullah Abdul Rauf, a senior commander of the militant group, said Mansour had died in the strike, Geo News reported.
The office of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani also confirmed Mansour’s death, saying the Taliban supremo had “refused to answer repeated calls” to end the war in the country.
Pakistani government sources also confirmed Mansour’s killing, Xinhua reported. However, the report did not identify the sources.
Mansour took control of the group in July last year after the announcement of the death of Taliban’s former leader Mullah Omar two years earlier.
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.
Mansour’s death came days after diplomats from Pakistan, Afghanistan, US and China held the latest round of talks in Islamabad about a flagging effort to draw the Taliban into peace negotiations.
His death would be a big blow for the Taliban as Mansour was gradually tightening his grip on the movement by bringing into his fold other leading Taliban members, including a son and a brother of his predecessor Mullah Omar, and by launching large scale attacks on Afghan security forces.
Under his leadership, the Taliban managed to capture an important city last year for the first time in 15 years.
Mansour also managed to silence the splinter Taliban group under Mullah Rasool, which challenged his leadership, and is credited by his followers for containing the Islamic State terror grouping in Taliban areas.
A vacuum created by his death would once again trigger a leadership struggle, observers opined.
Islamabad has long argued that the only way to end the war in Afghanistan is to try to coax a united Taliban to the table for peace talks, said the Guardian daily.
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.
But amid deadly Taliban attacks, including an April suicide bombing in Kabul that killed 64 people, the Afghan government has run out of patience with Islamabad and has demanded firm action against Taliban networks based on Pakistani soil.
Kabul says Pakistan’s unwillingness proves it is not prepared to end its longstanding relationship with a movement that Islamabad values as a means of influencing events in Afghanistan.
Pakistan directly helped the Taliban in its conquest of Afghanistan in the early 1990s and was one of only a handful of governments to recognise the fundamentalist regime before the US-led intervention in 2001.