Strike tar­gets Tal­iban chief

Be­lieved killed, U.S. of­fi­cial says

SundayXtra - - WORLD - By Alan Fram and Lolita C. Baldor

WASH­ING­TON — The U.S. tar­geted Tal­iban leader Mul­lah Man­sour in an airstrike Satur­day near the Afghanistan-Pak­istan bor­der, the De­fence De­part­ment said, and a U.S. of­fi­cial said Man­sour was be­lieved to have been killed.

Pen­tagon press sec­re­tary Peter Cook said the U.S. was still study­ing the re­sults of the at­tack, es­sen­tially leav­ing Man­sour’s fate un­cer­tain.

One U.S. of­fi­cial said Man­sour and a sec­ond male com­bat­ant ac­com­pa­ny­ing him in a ve­hi­cle were prob­a­bly killed. U.S. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama au­tho­rized the at­tack, which oc­curred on the Pak­istani side of the bor­der, and was briefed be­fore and af­ter it was car­ried out, a White House aide said. Both of­fi­cials spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity and were not au­tho­rized to dis­cuss the op­er­a­tion pub­licly.

Man­sour was cho­sen to head the Afghan Tal­iban last sum­mer af­ter the death sev­eral years ear­lier of the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s founder, Mul­lah Mo­ham­mad Omar, be­came pub­lic. The Tal­iban is the most pow­er­ful in­sur­gent group in the war-rav­aged coun­try, where an es­ti­mated 11,000 civil­ians were killed or wounded and 5,500 gov­ern­ment troops and po­lice of­fi­cers died last year alone.

Cook said Man­sour has been “ac­tively in­volved with plan­ning at­tacks” across Afghanistan. He called Man­sour “an ob­sta­cle to peace and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion” between the Tal­iban and the Afghan gov­ern­ment who has barred top Tal­iban of­fi­cials from join­ing peace talks, which have pro­duced few signs of progress.

Mem­bers of Congress lauded the at­tack. One law­maker said Man­sour’s death, if con­firmed, would be a sig­nif­i­cant blow to the Tal­iban, though not enough to al­low the U.S. to dis­en­gage from a con­flict that has in­volved thou­sands of U.S. troops for nearly 15 years.

“We must re­main vig­i­lant and well­re­sourced in the field and must con­tinue to help cre­ate the con­di­tions for a po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion,” said Rep. Adam Schiff of Cal­i­for­nia, top Demo­crat on the House in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tee.

Sen­ate armed ser­vices com­mit­tee chair­man John McCain (R-Ariz.) said he was glad Man­sour “has met his just end” but urged stepped-up coali­tion at­tacks on the Tal­iban.

“Our troops are in Afghanistan to­day for the same rea­son they de­ployed there in 2001 — to pre­vent Afghanistan from be­com­ing a safe haven for global ter­ror­ists,” McCain said.

The U.S. of­fi­cial said Satur­day’s at­tack was car­ried out by un­manned air­craft op­er­ated by Amer­i­can Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions Forces. The of­fi­cial said the op­er­a­tion was launched at about 6 a.m. EDT south­west of the town of Ah­mad Wal and caused no other dam­age be­cause it oc­curred in an iso­lated re­gion.

Man­sour, Mul­lah Omar’s long­time deputy, had been the Tal­iban’s de facto leader for years, ac­cord­ing to the Afghan gov­ern­ment.

His for­mal as­cen­sion was di­vi­sive in the Tal­iban, hand­ing him the chal­lenge of unit­ing a frac­tured — but still lethal — in­sur­gency that has seen fight­ers desert for more ex­treme groups such as the Is­lamic State.

The Tal­iban seized power in 1996 and ruled Afghanistan ac­cord­ing to a harsh in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Is­lamic law un­til the group was top­pled by a U.S.led in­va­sion fol­low­ing the Sept. 11, 2001, at­tacks on New York and Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

Al­most 15 years later, there are about 13,000 troops in the coun­try from a U.S.-NATO coali­tion, in­clud­ing around 9,800 Amer­i­cans. While they are mostly fo­cused on train­ing and help­ing Afghan gov­ern­ment forces bat­tle the in­sur­gency, about 3,000 of them are con­duct­ing coun­tert­er­ror­ism op­er­a­tions against the Tal­iban and the ex­trem­ist groups al- Qaida and Is­lamic State.

Man­sour is con­sid­ered close to Pak­istani au­thor­i­ties who hosted peace talks last year between the Tal­iban and Afghan gov­ern­ment. His suc­ces­sion widened the in­ter­nal split between fight­ers who want to use bat­tle­field gains to strengthen the Tal­iban’s hand in ne­go­ti­a­tions with Kabul and those who want to con­tinue the in­sur­gency and ul­ti­mately over­throw the Afghan gov­ern­ment.

Mul­lah Omar was the one-eyed, se­cre­tive head of the Tal­iban, whose group hosted Osama Bin Laden’s alQaida in the years lead­ing up to the Sept. 11 at­tacks and then waged an in­sur­gency af­ter the 2001 U.S.-led in­va­sion that ended Tal­iban rule.

Mul­lah Man­sour had been plan­ning at­tacks, a U.S. of­fi­cial said.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.