Mullah Akhtar Mansoor
Mullah Akhtar Mansour led the Taliban since mid-2015, when the death of the movementís founder, the one-eyed Mullah Mohammad Omar became public. Mansour had run the movement in Mullah Omarís name for more than two years. The revelation of Mullah Omarís death and Mansourís deception led to widespread mistrust, with some senior leaders leaving the group to set up their own factions.
The Afghan intelligence agency confirmed 22 May 2016 that Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor was killed in a US airstrike in Pakistan near the Afghan border. When he was named leader in 2015, the Taliban also named two deputies: Sirajuddin Haqqani, the leader of the powerful Haqqani militant network, and Maulvi Haibatullah Akhund, a religious cleric known for issuing decrees on behalf of the Taliban. Sirajuddin Haqqani is considered a terrorist leader by the United States, which has long offered a reward of $10 million for information leading to his capture. Little is known about Haibatullah Akhundís role in the militant group.
US military officials asserted that the Talibanís ties with al-Qaida have grown since Mansoor formally took charge. Afghan authorities had grown more critical of Pakistan, which they say is supporting and harboring the Taliban and the Haqqani network of militants. The killing of Mansoor in a remote area of Pakistanís Baluchistan province was likely to only reinforce those views. The groupís reluctance to engage in peace talks, and its continuing attacks, caused Afghan officials to grow more pessimistic about the peace process.
Michael Kugelman, a South Asia expert at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars, said Mullah Mansour's killing would only worsen the prospects of the talks. "With the Taliban facing another drawn out succession process, and also facing questions about the safety of its sanctuaries, issues of peace and reconciliation will be the last thing on the group's mind," Kugelman told DW 23 May 2016. "In the long term, questions about peace will depend on who Mansour's successor is. Mansour had originally been seen as a moderate willing to pursue peace, but clearly the US had come to a very different conclusion in recent weeks," he added.
Pakistan said it was informed by the U.S. after the drone strike was carried out but lashed out at Washington for violating its "sovereignty." Islamabad did not immediately confirm that Mansoor was killed. Pakistani security officials recovered two bodies charred beyond recognition. The passenger, who was suspected of being Mansoor, was said to be returning from Iran and was using a Pakistani passport with the name Muhammad Wali.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said 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." A US official who spoke on background said the strike was authorized by President Barack Obama. The Pentagon confirmed the US army had tried to kill Mansoor. "We are still assessing the results of the strike and will provide more information as it becomes available," spokesman Peter Cook said. "Mansoor has been an obstacle to peace and reconciliation between the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban, prohibiting Taliban leaders from participating in peace talks with the Afghan government that could lead to an end to the conflict."
The timing of the strike was significant because the Afghan government warned it would take action against the group for not participating in the talks. The US said several unmanned aircraft operated by US special operations forces targeted a vehicle in Pakistan's Baluchistan province. This could be the first time US drones were known to have targeted Taliban fighters inside Pakistan's Baluchistan province. All other known drone strikes inside Pakistan occurred in the country's federally administered tribal areas.
The Taliban, which has a history of refuting developments that could hurt its standing, did not initially issue an official statement though some of the group's officials earlier denied the reports. False rumors on the deaths of Taliban figures have circulated before. In December 2015, the Afghan government said Mansoor had died after a gunfight. The Taliban later released an audio message from him in which he denied he had been killed.
On July 31, 2015 the Afghan Taliban announced that its 'shura' or supreme council had chosen Mullah Akhtar Mansoor as the new chief of the Afghan insurgent group, a day after confirming reports of the death of its founder, Mullah Omar. The new leader, Mullah Akhtar Mansoor served as deputy to Mullah Omar and was the head of the Taliban's political and military affairs. Mullah Mansur, believed to be in his 50s, hails from the southern province of Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban. He served as civil aviation minister in the Taliban regime that ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001.
The Leading Council of the Islamic Emirate said "Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansoor, who was considered a reliable and suitable person for shouldering huge tasks even in the lifetime of late Mullah Mohammad Umar Mujahid (may his soul rest in peace) and had been practically administrating the Islamic Emirate since long; therefore, the leading council of the Islamic Emirate and authentic scholars judged him a suitable and talented personality for the new leadership of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and appointed him as their legalized leader.
"In this meeting of leadership appointment, scholars, saints and dignitaries of the Islamic Emirate took an oath of allegiance to Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansoor as Amir-ul-Momineen in accordance with the principal of listening and obedience. He, as a legal Amir, pledged his commitment to the Sharia Law too."
In being named as the new head of the Taliban, Mullah Akhtar Mansur, one of the founders of the movement, was granted the title of Amir-ul-Momineen (Commander of the Faithful). This gave him the same supreme status held by his predecessor, Mullah Mohammad Omar.
The announcement also said that Maulvi Haibatullah Akundzada and Maulvi Sirajuddin Haqqani had been appointed as deputies to Mansoor. Sirajuddin Haqqani had long headed the so-called Haqqani network, a militant group aligned with the Taliban and based in North Waziristan, one of Pakistanís tribal regions along the Afghan border. The network has been blamed for many of the deadliest attacks against coalition forces and the Afghan government during the war. Taliban sources identified Maulvi Haibatullah Akhunzada as the former head of courts during the Taliban's rule in Afghanistan before 2001.
Mullah Mansoor was born in around 1965 in a small village called Kariz in the Maiwand district of Kandahar. A member of the Ishaqzai tribe, Mansoor participated in the US-backed Afghan insurgency, widely known as Afghan jihad, against the Soviet Unionís invasion of Afghanistan between 1979 and 1989. Later, he participated in the Islamist armed struggle against the Communist regime of Dr. Najibullah that was installed in Kabul after Moscowís military departure in 1989. He was a member of Harakat-i-Inqilab-i-Islami, a former paramilitary group formed by Maulana Mohammad Nabi Mohammadi to fight the Soviets.
Mansoor joined the Taliban when the hardline Islamist movement, led by its founder Mullah Omar, emerged during the bloody power struggle among various Afghan factions following after the collapse of the Najibullah government in 1992. One of his first jobs for the group was overseeing the security of Kandahar airport. In 1996-2001, when the Taliban was in power, he oversaw ministry of civil aviation.
Afghans with knowledge of Mansoorís years with the Taliban describe him as a low-level administrator who mostly dealt with organizational matters and was not among the top 10 Taliban leaders at the time. He briefly served as director general of the Kandahar airport and enjoyed the status of a minister for civil aviation till the end of the Taliban regime in late 2001.
After the Taliban was driven from Afghanistan and the group launched its counteroffensive, Mansoor was declared the groupís shadow governor of Kandahar and was a member of the Talibanís leadership council. He rose to the upper echelons after Mullah Akhtar Osmani, a senior Taliban military leader and a close associate of Mullah Omar, was killed by US-led coalition forces in 2006 and Mullah Dadullah Akhund, the group's top military commander, was killed in 2007 by British special forces. Between 2007 and 2010 he was able to stake a claim for higher office when Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the deputy of Mullah Omar, and Mullah Obaidullah Akhund, the Taliban government defence minister, were captured by the Pakistan Intelligence agency ISI. Omar appointed Mansoor as his deputy and acting head of the shura or leadership council after his predecessor, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, was captured in Pakistan by the neighboring countryís spy agency in early 2010 with the help of the CIA. Baradar, a co-founder of the Afghan Taliban movement, was released in September of 2013 at the request of the then Kabul government.
The top official in the Afghan government delegation involved in the peace talks with the Taliban, Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai, has said that the Taliban delegation at the first round of talks had the backing of Mansoor. Sources in Pakistan also assert that Mansoor is the driving force behind the nascent Afghan peace process.
In July 2015, Afghan intelligence said that Mullah Omar had been dead for two years. Within hours of that announcement, the Taliban reportedly held a meeting and elected Mullah Mansoor as leader. But his appointment appeared to expose fissures in the group. A few months after his appointment, Taliban fighters seized the capital of Kunduz province after launching a daring raid from multiple directions. The attack was the biggest blow to President Ashraf Ghani since he took office a year before.
Mansoor refused to join any of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) meetings, made up of representatives from Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the United States and aimed at reviving a peace process. After his persistent refusal to join talks, Afghan officials told Al Jazeera that action against the Taliban would be on the agenda for the fifth round of peace talks in early May 2015.
Taliban commander Mullah Mansour is not to be confused with Mullah Bakht Mohammad (alias Mullah Mansour Dadullah), a popular military commander. Akhtar Mohammad Mansoor, a logistics expert, was head of the Talibanís senior shura council and a reputed pragmatist. Other senior pragmatists included Shahabuddin Delawar and Noorudin Turabi, who was released by Pakistan in December 2012. Some experts believed that these figures blame their past association with Al Qaeda for their loss of power. The pragmatists faced debate from younger and reputedly hardline, anti-compromise leaders who believed outright Taliban victory was possible. Some factions favor Mullah Yaqoub, the eldest son of Mullah Omar.
Omarís 26-year-old son, Yaqoob, and other hardliners oppose the peace talks. They also opposed the decision of Omarís deputy Mullah Akhtar who wanted to send a delegation to direct peace talks on 07 July 2015. The emergence of actual negotiations placed enormous strain on the Taliban and widened a dangerous rift inside the group.
With Islamic State and other jihadist groups competing for the loyalty of young Taliban fighters, it was unclear whether any leader can hold the Taliban movement together and then get its members to accept a peace settlement. The nightmare is if nobody respected the leadership anymore in the Taliban, because then there is no one to talk to.
The Taliban Supreme Council (Shura Council) was not consulted before the appointment of the new leader Mullah Mohammed Akhtar Mansoor, a move that could impact on the peace talks with the Afghan government, Al Jazeera has learned. Mullah Abdul Manan Niazi, a senior member of the Supreme Council, told Al Jazeera on 31 July 2015 that Mullah Mansoor was appointed after a brief discussion with four to five senior Taliban commanders without consulting the Supreme Council members. "This decision was taken without our consent. Our Mujahideen have sacrificed their blood for two decades. We have to appoint someone who has a proper knowledge and hold on Sharia and our Afghan values. Mullah Akhtar Mansoor did not even contribute much to our movement," Mullah Niazi said.
Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir, a member of Leadership Council of Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the name the group refers to itself, released a statement 31 July 2015 denying claims of disagreements and conflict on the decision. "I have heard that Mullah Muhammad Hassan Rahmani, Mullah Abdul Razzaq, Mullah Muhammad Rasul and other individuals have claimed in radios and some gatherings that Mullah Abdul Qayyum is in conflict with Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansoor Sahib," Zakir said in a statement published on the group's official website. "These claims are absolutely baseless. I reassure you all that I will exert my complete efforts in working for the Islamic Emirate and hope from Allah that I will be one of the most obedient individuals from it."
Mullah Zakir, a former chief military commander of the Taliban, had previously supported Mullah Yaqoub, the son of Mullah Omar, for the post. Mullah Yaqoub and Mullah Mansoor had been long rivals for control of the group.
On 04 August 2015 the head of the Afghan Talibanís political office in Qatar resigned, and issued a highly critical statement that highlights growing internal schisms since the confirmation of the death of founder Mullah Mohammad Omar. In a statement released to the media, Tayyab Agha said there were ďhistoric mistakesĒ made in keeping Mullah Omarís death secret for nearly two years and in picking his successors outside of Afghanistan. Aghaís claim gave credence to the widespread perception that the Talibanís new leader, Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, was selected with the backing of Pakistan. The statement also suggests that the groupís senior political representative was unaware of the Taliban leaderís death and had been actively deceived by those around Omar since he died two years ago.
The fate of Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour remained unclear December 04, 2015, two days after Afghan authorities alleged he was wounded in a gunfight during a meeting of militant commanders in neighboring Pakistan. ďTaliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour died of injuries,Ē Sultan Faizy, a spokesman for the first vice president of Afghanistan said. The alleged firefight took place near the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta on 01 Decembe 2015. The Taliban swiftly rejected the claim, saying it was ďfabricatedĒ by the Afghan intelligence agency as part of its campaign to create divisions within the Islamist insurgency.
On December 05, 2015 Afghanistanís Taliban said it has received a voice message from its supreme leader, Mullah Akhtar Mansour, that should refute claims about his involvement in a gunfight, and supposed death, earlier in the week. In the message, Mansour stressed he is ďsafe and healthy,Ē and denied there are rifts in the Taliban leadership.
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