The Afghan intelligence agency NDS confirmed Sunday that Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor was killed in an airstrike in Pakistan near the Afghan border.
A brief NDS statement released Sunday on its official Twitter and Facebook accounts said, “Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor was killed in the airstrike yesterday at 3:45 p.m. in Dalbandin, Baluchistan.”
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s office in Kabul also issued a statement Sunday, saying, “The government of Afghanistan is in the process of reviewing the final details of this operation concerning the fate of Mullah Akhtar Mansoor and will publicly announce the results as soon as possible.”
It said the Taliban leader was “engaged in deception, concealment of facts, drug-smuggling and terrorism while intimidating, maiming and killing innocent Afghans.”
Earlier, a U.S. official who spoke on background said the strike was authorized by President Barack Obama and occurred Saturday afternoon, local time.
The official said several unmanned aircraft operated by U.S. special operations forces targeted a vehicle southwest of the town of Ahmad Wal in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province. An adult male who was traveling with Mansoor was also reported likely killed in the strike.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday during a visit to Myanmar that Mansoor was targeted because he posed “an imminent threat to U.S. personnel, Afghan civilians and Afghan security forces,” and that Mansoor “was directly opposed to peace negotiations.”
Meanwhile, a Pakistani security official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told VOA the border town where the airstrike took place is divided between Pakistan and Afghanistan, and that the drone strike actually took place on the Afghan side of the border.
That location conflicts with the Afghan intelligence agency statement.
Depending an the actual location of the strike, it could be the first time U.S. drones are known to have targeted Taliban fighters inside Pakistan’s Baluchistan province.
All other known drone strikes inside Pakistan have occurred in the country’s federal administered tribal areas, a semiautonomous region along the Afghan border where Pakistan’s military has battled militants for years.
It is also rare for U.S. Special Forces to carry out drone strikes inside Pakistan. The CIA is typically in charge of the covert strikes that target senior terrorist leaders in the country.
The elimination of Mansoor will deal a critical blow to the Taliban, which has struggled with internal divisions over its leadership since July 2015 when the insurgent group announced its founder and first leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, had been dead for more than two years.
The United States has not designated the Afghan Taliban as a terrorist group.
U.S. policy in Afghanistan generally allows coalition aircraft to target enemy fighters only when they can be identified as al-Qaida or Islamic State group loyalists, or when militants are directly threatening NATO personnel.
Earlier this month, a senior U.S. commander in Afghanistan told reporters that there are signs that al-Qaida terrorists have been working more with the Taliban since Mansoor took charge.
Brigadier General Charles Cleveland said, however, U.S. forces “are not in — necessarily in direct combat with the Taliban.” He said that the expectation is that Afghan government forces are the ones mainly engaging the Taliban, and U.S. forces are there to help them.
On Friday, David Petraeus, the former commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan and former head of the CIA, called for loosening restrictions on U.S. airstrikes against Afghan Taliban fighters.
In an essay published in The Wall Street Journal, Petraeus and his co-author, military analyst Michael O’Hanlon, said because of the Taliban’s long ties with al-Qaida and the Haqqani network, its aims of overthrowing the Afghan government, and its continuing push to seize territory, the United States should rely more on air power to help defeat the group.
2 killed in strike
In another development, doctors in Quetta, capital of Baluchistan, said Sunday they had received two bodies from the remote border district of Noshki, the scene of the U.S strike.
Dr. Rashid Jamali, duty officer at the city’s Civil Hospital, told VOA the bodies were retrieved by locals in the Ahmed Wal town before they were transported to Quetta.
Jamali said documents recovered identify the men as Mohammad Azam, who was a taxi driver, and Wali Mohammad, a passenger.
Witnesses in Noshki say the taxi was attacked from the air Saturday afternoon and the victims were brought to the district hospital before they were transferred to Quetta, the original destination of the vehicle.
It is not clear if the incident is related to the attack against Mansoor. (VOA)