US targeted Taliban emir Mullah Mansour in unprecedented Pakistan drone strike

The US military said it targeted and possibly killed Taliban emir Mullah Mansour today in an “airstrike” in a remote area along the “Afghanistan-Pakistan border region.” Mansour’s status is unknown and the military said it is attempting to determine if he is dead or alive.

“We are still assessing the results of the strike and will provide more information as it becomes available,” Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said in an official statement.

“Mansour has been the leader of the Taliban and actively involved with planning attacks against facilities in Kabul and across Afghanistan, presenting a threat to Afghan civilians and security forces, our personnel, and Coalition partners,” Cook said, offering justification for the strike. “Mansour 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.”

Mansour officially replaced Mullah Omar, the founder of the Taliban, as the group’s emir in August 2015 when Omar’s death was disclosed. But Mansour has really been at the helm of the Taliban since April 2013, when Omar died and the Taliban kept his death secret for more than two years. Since taking the role of emir, Mansour fought and won a divisive power struggle against senior Taliban leaders who preferred Omar’s eldest son as heir to the group. Mansour led a deadly uprising that saw the resurgent Taliban gain more territory than any time since the US invasion in 2001.

It may take days for the US to receive physical confirmation of Mansour’s death, if at all possible. The Taliban has not issued an official statement announcing Mansour’s death. Voice of Jihad, the Taliban’s official website, has been offline most of the week.

While the Pentagon did not state the location of the airstrike which targeted Mansour, Reuters reported that it took place at 6 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time (3 p.m. local time) in the town of Ahmad Wal in Baluchistan province.

“Multiple US drones targeted the men as they rode in a vehicle in a remote area in Pakistan along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, southwest of the town of Ahmad Wal,” an unnamed official told the news agency.

US intelligence officials confirmed to The Long War Journal that the strike took place in Mansour’s home Baluchistan province.

A strike in Baluchistan is unprecedented and may signal a shift in US policy which previously confined drone strikes to Pakistan’s tribal agencies. This is the first reported strike by the US in Baluchistan, where the Taliban’s top leadership setup shop in Quetta. All of the other 391 drone and airstrikes reportedly executed by the US took place in Pakistan’s province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Only one other strike took place outside of the Federally Administered Tribal Agencies, according to data compiled by The Long War Journal. Of those 390 strikes that occurred in the tribal agencies, 280 took place in North Waziristan and 90 took place in South Waziristan.

Conducting a strike in Baluchistan raises questions whether or not the US sought permission from the Pakistani government to carry out the attack in an area other than North and South Waziristan. Mansour was believed to be operating under the auspices and protection of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate.

If Mansour is confirmed killed, one likely successor is Sirajuddin Haqqani, the leader of the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani Network which is also closely tied to the Taliban. Siraj is one of Mansour’s two deputies and serves as the Taliban’s overall military commander.

If Siraj replaced Mansour, he is even more unlikely than his predecessor to negotiate a peace agreement.The Taliban has insisted that only the return of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the imposition of its harsh brand of sharia – or Islamic law – and the withdrawal of all Western forces is acceptable.

The Taliban released a statement last month sternly denying another senior leader – Mullah Adbul Qayoum Zakir, a former Guantanamo detainee – had called for negotiations with the Afghan government and the West. Although he might represent a coup for the US, Mullah Zakir is an unlikely successor to Mansour. And Zakir, who is also closely tied to al Qaeda, is just as committed to restoring the Taliban to power as Mansour and Siraj.

Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, one of Mansour’s two deputies and the Taliban’s top sharia official is also a candidate to replace Mansour.

Other possible successors include Omar’s eldest son, Mullah Mohammad Yaqoub, and Omar’s brother, Mullah Abdul Manan Akhund. Both were appointed to key Taliban leadership positions last month in the group’s executive council as a way to smooth over any lingering discontent. Omar’s kin opposed the appointment of Mansour and Yaqoub was rumored to have sought the seat to replace his father. It took nearly two months after the change in leadership for Yaqoub to swear allegiance to Mansour in September 2015.

By that point, it was already clear Mansour had navigated through turbulent times. In August 2015, Mansour accepted the oath of allegiance from al Qaeda emir Ayman Zawahiri, as well as pledges from “Jihadi organizations spread throughout the globe.” Mansour’s public acceptance of Zawahiri’s fealty above all others signaled the new face of the Taliban had no intention to break longstanding ties with al Qaeda. The reconciliation with Omar’s family was a final piece to the puzzle. His apparent unification of Taliban ranks did not keep Mansour out of the crosshairs, however. In December, Mansour released an audio statement denying reports of his death, which he said were floated by his enemies to divide his group.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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14 Comments

  • James says:

    Whoa, Baluchistan? This would be a real shift…what are the odds Pakistan approved such a strike (with public denial, of course)?

  • Vikram says:

    Great job. Keep up the pressure.

  • KnownUnkowns says:

    This game of ‘Whack-A-Mole’ isn’t working. Every time we kill a senior member of Al-Qeada or the Taliban or ISIS or their numerous affiliates, the ones brought up to replace them are younger, more extreme and more bloodthirsty. This won’t end until we have wiped them all out. From the most junior member to the leadership and everyone in between. Until they are all dead this will never end.

  • khalil senharo says:

    follow up required as i m a journalist from pakistan

  • Arjuna says:

    Where is the ISI in all this? Did we use DoD assets to keep them in the dark? Mansour was a very “agency style” hit: dark, deniable and provocative, and outside the “kill boxes” (which should never have been allowed to exist anyway) even if they used a Pentagon UAV.
    Let’s make sure we drone the shura to pick his replacement. No more pussyfooting around.

    • Arjuna says:

      Interesting background here:
      http://www.ptinews.com/news/7478059_-Frequent-flyer-Mansour-used-Pak-passport-for-trips–.html
      Of course he had to go meet his buddies and bankers in Dubai. When Uncle Sam allowed the Taliban to open that office, Uncle Sam basically threw in the towel as regards “defeating” the enemy and the Taliban became just another area of the terrorism problem to be “managed”. Oops, wrong strategy. The only way out is to kill these animals until they are no longer in existence, while being honest with ourselves about who arms and trains and pays them.

  • Question says:

    “Mansour was believed to be operating under the auspices and protection of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate.”

    Hey Bill, can you explain who believed this — US intelligence?

    • Old Blue says:

      The real question, Question, is, “Who doesn’t realize that the ISI has never stopped supporting the Afghan Taliban?”

      Remember that the ISI supported the Taliban early on, before they expanded much further than Omar’s home turf. A grateful Taliban regime became the only Afghan government to officially recognize the Durand Line as the lasting and legal border of Afghanistan. Even the current government in Kabul has not done that. Afghans have never forgotten that the historical border was the Indus River, long before Pakistan was even a thought in the minds of separatist Indian Muslims. The ISI hasn’t forgotten, either, and has no interest in a stable Afghanistan. Nor is the ISI controlled by the Pakistani civilian government. Several years ago, Pakistan’s newly elected president declared that the ISI was going to fall inert under civilian government control. Within days, the ISI replied definitively that they were not… and so it has stayed.

      A persistent meme in Afghanistan is that we, America, actually support the Taliban. This meme was started, in part, by the ISI in order to keep Afghans from trusting our motives in and for Afghanistan. Afghans find the concept believable because of our inability to utterly destroy the Taliban even with our perceived omnipotence. If we are as powerful as we appear, why have we not destroyed the Taliban in short order? The explanation that we want/need the Taliban in order to justify our continued presence seems to hold water in light of such a reasonable question.

      Afghans see Pakistan playing both sides of the street, and they are correct. Afghans wondered to me aloud why we would put up with such a duplicitous partner; a question I could not easily answer. We needed ports and passage for our gear and fuel. Officially, Pakistan supported our efforts. Unofficially, Pakistan gave safe haven to the Taliban, Haqqani, and bin Laden… and that was just the high profile stuff. Arms, money and advisors have been available. The ISI was complicit in keeping Omar’s death from most of his own organization. The Taliban fractured after the announcement of Omar’s death, in part, because some in the Taliban resent ISI control. This is also, in part, why factions joined under the ISIS banner; the ISI has no influence over ISIS.

      Your question, Question, is so silly that it would be ridiculous if it weren’t such a fundamental lie, essential to our ongoing relationship with Pakistan. We need Pakistani cooperation, and yet Pakistan cooperates with one hand while stabbing us, and the Afghans, with the other. Anyone who does not see this dichotomy is either unserious or dishonest.

      Yes, Question, that is a question.

      • Arjuna says:

        I think General Pasha knew everything as it was happening (MMO’s fate/non-fate, Mansour’s trips to GHQ and Dubai, the whole thing). Pasha is the new Hamid Gul.

        We play ball w PK so its generals don’t sacrifice millions of the world’s citizens to fulfill antagonistic tribal and religious fantasies. It’s a crazy place. Hot and getting hotter, angry and getting angrier, over-armed and getting more arms. Hard to see where it ends that doesn’t involve you-know-what.

  • Tirmizi says:

    Now i’m living here in the west away from the Jihadi mantra that has plagued my country. Away from the akhtar mansoors and the sajnas. No moral policing and no bestial behaviours inspired by fanatic religious zeal. There was a time when my country’s cricket stadiums used to buzz with spectators and the northern mountain regions lured tourists towards them. Aah that’s a far cry now with the Daulats, Ahrars, Talibs hoarding these terrains and exploding themselves to hasten their orgasm in the afterlife, the path of which runs through martyrdom.

  • Devendra K Sood says:

    WELL DONE, DRONES.

  • Ignorant Pashtoon says:

    It is baffling that the body of the Taliban leader has not been claimed by the U.S. cum NATO forces, especially when he was carrying a passport by the name of Wali Muhammad duly endorsed for his over a dozen foreign trips by air and by road. Could it be that like Mullah Umar this one too had died sometime back and Taliban and US both were not announcing it, (of course for different reasons) And now to sabotage the peace process US has staged this drama (knowing fully well that no one dare question his side of the story) to suit its unspoken aims. A million dollar question would be that if this man was Mullah Akhtar Mansur, and he was traced correctly and changed why wait for that long as to cross over to Baluchistan (Pakistan) called by many as the de-facto headquarters of Taliban and allow him to travel that far. (Wherein the possibility of losing his track could not be overlooked) But as the Pashto saying is “No one is prepared to tell the Khan that he is naked” (Balls are visible are the exact words)

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