Says they removed leader involved in attacks on US and coalition forces; FO summons US envoy and tells him such actions may hurt the ongoing peace efforts; says strike a violation of Pak sovereignty and breach of UN Charter; Iran denies Mulla Mansour entered Pakistan from its territory
HANOI/KABUL/ISLAMABAD: US President Barack Obama on Monday confirmed the death of Afghan Taliban leader Mulla Akhtar Mansour in a US air strike and said American forces would continue to go after threats in Pakistan.
“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 issued by the White House.
“We will continue taking action against extremist networks that target the United States. We will work on shared objectives with Pakistan, where terrorists that threaten all our nations must be denied safe haven,” he added.
Obama, on a three-day visit to Vietnam, reiterated support for the government in Kabul and the Afghan security forces, and called on the Taliban to join peace talks.
Obama authorised the drone strike that killed Mulla Akhtar Mansour in a remote region just on the Pakistani side of the border with Afghanistan on Saturday.
Afghan authorities said the mission was successful, but the US officials held back from confirming that the Taliban leader had been killed until intelligence had been fully assessed.
Calling the death “an important milestone”, Obama said: “The Taliban should seize the opportunity to pursue the only real path for ending this long conflict — joining the Afghan government in a reconciliation process that leads to lasting peace and stability.”
However, he stressed that the operation against Mansour did not represent a shift in US strategy in Afghanistan or a return to active engagement in fighting following the end of international coalition’s main combat mission in 2014.
The US currently has 9,800 troops in Afghanistan, divided between a NATO-led mission to train and advise local forces and a separate counter terrorism mission fighting militant groups such as Islamic State and Al-Qaeda.
A decision is expected later this year on whether to stick with a timetable that would see the number of troops cut to 5,500 by the start of 2017.
Although some individual Taliban members have been quoted in media reports saying that Mansour was killed, the group’s leadership, keenly aware of the need to limit damaging splits, has not issued its own confirmation.
“The leadership is being very careful because one wrong step could divide the group into many parties like former Mujahideen,” one Taliban official from the eastern province of Nangarhar said, referring to guerrilla leaders who fought the Soviets in the 1980s before splitting into warring factions.
A shura, or leadership council, has already begun meeting to choose a successor, a task that will be vital to protecting the unity of the movement.
Serious splits emerged last year when it was confirmed that Mullah Mohammad Omar, the group’s founder, had been dead for two years, leaving his deputy Mansour in effective charge of the movement and open to accusations he had deceived his commanders.
One senior member of the shura said the choice for the next leader appeared to be shaping around Mansour’s deputy, Sirajuddin Haqqani, or a member of the family of Mullah Omar, such as his son Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob.
“We prefer someone from Omar’s family to put an end to all internal problems,” he said.Meanwhile, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Syed Tariq Fatemi on Monday summoned, for the first time, US Ambassador David Hale and conveyed to him Pakistan’s ‘concern’ over the Saturday’s drone strike on its territory.
“Tariq Fatemi pointed out that the drone strike was a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and a breach of the United Nation’s Charter that guarantees the inviolability of territorial integrity of its member states.
“He also emphasized that such actions could adversely impact on the ongoing efforts by the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) for facilitating peace talks between the Afghan Government and the Taliban,” Fatemi was quoted as saying by the Foreign Office spokesman.
Summoning the American ambassador after a drone strike has also been a common practice in the past.So far, there has been no ‘condemnation’ of the United States crossing red lines while targeting inside Pakistan’s settled areas and a first inside Balochistan at a time when the peace process lies in tatters.
Neither has the government acknowledged the death of Afghan Taliban leader Mulla Akhtar Mansour saying that a man named Mohammad Wali with a Pakistani passport had been taken out. This is despite confirmation from Afghanistan, the United States and the Afghan Taliban themselves.
US President Barack Obama on Monday confirmed that Mansour had been killed in a US air strike, saying it was an “important milestone” in efforts to bring peace to Afghanistan.
Fatemi also underlined that Pakistan and the United States had been closely coordinating in the fight against terrorism and that this cooperation needed to be maintained.Meanwhile, Iran has denied Pakistan’s claims that Mulla Akhtar Mansour or (Muhammad Wali) was entering Pakistan from Iran before he was taken out.
The Interior Ministry has not yet shown any markings of entry and exit on the Pakistani passport, which would prove whether Wali had entered Iran.Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Hossein Jaber Ansari was quoted by the official IRNA news agency on Monday as denying Mansour had been in the country before the attack.
“The competent authorities of the Islamic republic deny that this person on this date crossed Iran’s border and into Pakistan,” he said.“Iran welcomes any positive action leading to peace and stability in Afghanistan,” he added, without elaborating.