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US Airstrike kills Afghan Taliban Leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, leaves no clear successor

Jamali said documents recovered identify the men as Mohammad Azam, who was a taxi driver, and Wali Mohammad, a passenger.

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Photo taken on cellphone purports to show the destroyed vehicle in which Mullah Mohammad Akhtar Mansour was traveling in the Ahmad Wal area in Baluchistan province of Pakistan, near Afghanistan's border, May 22, 2016. Image source: VOA
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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.”

FILE - Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, leader of the Afghan Taliban, is seen in this undated handout photo from the Taliban. Credit:VOA
FILE – Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, leader of the Afghan Taliban, is seen in this undated handout photo from the Taliban. Credit:VOA

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.

US policy

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)

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  • Pritam Go Green

    Its good to hear that the world superpowers are working to eradicate this evil from our society.
    Good job United States !! This has become a major threat to very existence of humanity. This terror grp needs to be eliminated asap !!

Next Story

Afghan Orchestra Flourishes Despite Social Issues

Afghanistan and Pakistan have experienced years of terrorist attacks, including massive casualties on both sides of their long shared border.

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Afghanistan
Negin Khpolwak, leader of the Zohra orchestra, an ensemble of 35 women, practices on a piano at Afghanistan's National Institute of Music, in Kabul, Afghanistan. VOA

The consequences of Afghanistan’s increasingly deadly war are weighing heaviest on the nation’s civilians, with women bearing the brunt of the violence. The Taliban banned music and girls education, and restricted outdoor activities of women when the group was controlling most of Afghanistan.

But violence and social pressures have not deterred members of the country’s nascent orchestra of mostly young girls from using music to “heal wounds” and promote women’s rights in the strictly conservative Muslim society.

The ensemble, known as Zohra, was founded in 2014 as part of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music (ANIM) in Kabul, where suicide bombings lately have become routine.

Hope and music

Students and trainers are not losing hope and regularly come to the city’s only institute to rehearse and learn new lessons, says Ahmed Naser Sarmast, the director of ANIM and the founder of the orchestra. Zohra is the name of a music goddess in Persian literature, he explained.

The musicologist spoke to VOA while visiting neighboring Pakistan earlier this month with the young ensemble to perform in Islamabad as part of celebrations marking the 99th anniversary of Afghanistan’s Independence Day. Kabul’s embassy in Islamabad organized and arranged for the orchestra’s first visit to Pakistan.

Despite the many challenges in Afghanistan, Sarmast said, student enrollment has consistently grown and more parents are bringing their children to the institute to study music. Around 300 students are studying not only music at the institute but other subjects, including the Quran, he said.

Afghanistan
Members of the Zohra orchestra, an ensemble of 35 women, attend a rehearsal at Afghanistan’s National Institute of Music, in Kabul. VOA

Advances for women

Negin Khpolwak, the orchestra’s first woman conductor, says Afghanistan has made significant advances in terms of promoting women’s rights in the past 17 years. She says there is a need to sustain the momentum irrespective of rising violence.

“We need to stand up to protect those gains and we need to open the doors for other Afghan girls,” Khpolwak said when asked whether deadly attacks around the country are reversing the gains women have made.

But violence alone is not the only challenge for women and girls, especially those who want to study music, she said.

“When you are going in the street with your instrument to the school and they are saying bad words to you and if you are giving a concert in public they are telling the bad words to you. But we are not caring about it,” Khpolwak said.

Afghanistan
Ahmad Naser Sarmast, head of Afghanistan’s National Institute of Music, speaks to members of the Zohra orchestra, an ensemble of 35 women, in Kabul, Afghanistan. VOA

Ethnic groups help each other

Sarmast says that girls and boys in the orchestra come from different Afghan ethnic groups and they help each other when needed.

“It’s hope for the future,” he said.

Ethnic rivalries have been a hallmark of hostilities in Afghanistan and continue to pose a challenge to efforts promoting peace and stability.

“I strongly believe without arts and culture there cannot be security and we are using the soft power of music to make a small contribution to bringing peace and stability in Afghanistan and at the same time using this beautiful, if I can call it a beautiful weapon, to transform our community,” the director said.

Some of the members of the Afghan orchestra were born and brought up in refugee camps in Pakistan, which still hosts around 3 million registered and unregistered Afghan families displaced by years of war, poverty, persecution and drought.

Afghanistan
Members of the Zohra orchestra, an ensemble of 35 women, bring instruments to a class before a rehearsal at Afghanistan’s National Institute of Music, in Kabul, Afghanistan. VOA

“We are using the healing power of music to look after the wounds of the Afghan people as well as the Pakistani people. We are here with the message of peace, brotherhood and freedom,” Sarmast said.

Afghanistan and Pakistan have experienced years of terrorist attacks, including massive casualties on both sides of their long shared border. Bilateral relations are marred by mistrust and suspicion.

Also Read: OrchKids- Bringing Jot to Underprivileged Kids Through Music

The countries blame each other for supporting terrorist attacks. Afghans allege that sanctuaries in Pakistan have enabled Taliban insurgents to sustain and expand their violent acts inside Afghanistan. Pakistan rejects the charges.

The Islamist insurgency controls or is attempting to control nearly half of Afghanistan. (VOA)