Islamabad, Washington- U.S. President Barack Obama confirmed on Monday the death of Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour, saying it marks an “important milestone” in longstanding efforts to bring peace to Afghanistan.
“We have removed the leader of an organization 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 U.S. president said.
In a written statement issued as he traveled in Vietnam, Obama said Washington will continue to take action against extremist networks that target the United States.
He said Mansour had rejected efforts “to seriously engage in peace talks and end the violence that has taken the lives of countless innocent Afghan men, women and children.”
Obama also called on the Taliban’s remaining leadership to engage in peace talks as the “only real path” to ending the attritional conflict.
Mansour was killed when a U.S. drone fired on his vehicle in the southwestern Pakistan province of Baluchistan. He had emerged as the successor to Taliban founder Mullah Mohammad Omar, whose 2013 death was only revealed last summer.
High-ranking sources in Taliban also confirmed Mansour’s death. They said the Shoura Council met late Sunday in the Pakistani city of Quetta to choose the figure who would replace him.
“I can say with good authority that Mullah Mansour is no more,” a senior Taliban source told Agence France Presse.
Taliban sources said that Sirajuddin Haqqani, leader of the dreaded Haqqani network and one of Mansour’s deputies, was among the frontrunners, adding that Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar was also in contention.
Both figures are said to be close to the Pakistani military establishment, which has historically nurtured and supported the Taliban.
Mullah Yakoub, the son of the group’s deceased founder Mullah Omar, is also favored by many Taliban commanders for the leader’s post.
In a statement late Saturday, the Pentagon said several unmanned U.S. aircraft struck a vehicle in which Mansour was traveling in Baluchistan province.
The Washington Post said that the strike, authorized by Obama, is thought to have been the first U.S. drone strike in that part of Pakistan, which includes the base of the Afghan Taliban insurgency.
Local officials in Baluchistan said they recovered a charred vehicle and two bodies.
The passenger, suspected of being Mansour, had a Pakistani passport registered to an address in Karachi. The other man was apparently a taxi driver, local officials said.
In a statement, Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said that Mansour has been “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.”
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,” he added.