Iran denies killed Taliban leader was in the country

Pictures of the leader of the Afghan Taliban, Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansoor (left) who who succeeded Mullah Mohammad Omar. (File photo: The Associated Press)

Iran on Monday denied reports that Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour entered Pakistan from the Islamic republic before being killed in a US drone strike, state media reported.

Pakistani security officials told AFP on Sunday that the man killed on Saturday in the southwestern province of Balochistan, believed at the time to be Mansour, had just returned from Iran when his vehicle was attacked.

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.

US strike angers Pakistan

Meanwhile, Pakistan accused the United States on Sunday of violating its sovereignty with a drone strike against Mansour, in perhaps the most high-profile US incursion into Pakistani territory since the 2011 raid to kill Osama bin Laden.

Pakistan protested on Sunday, saying the US government did not inform Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif beforehand.

“This is a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty,” Sharif told reporters in London, saying it was still unclear who was killed.

Afghanistan said the attack killed Mansour, which, if confirmed, could trigger a succession battle within the armed group that has proved resilient despite a decade and a half of US military deployments to Afghanistan.

Mullah Akhtar Mansoor

Mullah Akhtar Mansoor

Obama hails Mansour killing

However, US President Barack Obama on Monday confirmed that Mansour had been killed, hailing his death as an “important milestone” in efforts to bring peace to Afghanistan.

Senior Taliban sources have also confirmed the killing to AFP, adding that a shura (council) was under way to select a new leader.

Pakistani identity documents found on the body of the man now known to be Mansour named him as Muhammad Wali, and showed he had left for Iran on March 28 and returned the day he was killed.

Iran supports the Afghan government in its fight against the Taliban group.

President Ashraf Ghani meanwhile arrived in Tehran on Monday for the signing of a tripartite agreement between Iran, India and Afghanistan to turn Iran's southeastern port of Chabahar into a transit hub between the three countries, bypassing Pakistan.

Islamabad, which says it hosts many of the Afghan Taliban’s top leadership to exert influence over them and bring them back to peace talks with Kabul, called the US drone attack a violation of its sovereignty.

Succession

The Afghan Taliban’s leadership council met on Sunday to start considering succession, two Taliban sources told Reuters, in the strongest sign yet the insurgency had accepted he was dead.

The Taliban have not yet officially confirmed that Mansour was killed and there were conflicting accounts on Sunday, with the Afghan government declaring him dead, while Washington stopped just short of doing so.

The Taliban sources said that Sunday’s meeting of the Rahbari Shura, or leadership council, included discussion of possible successors, including guerrilla commander Sirajuddin Haqqani.

Haqqani, who has a $5 million US bounty on his head, would likely prove an even more implacable foe of Afghan government forces and their US allies.

He is widely seen by US and Afghan officials as the most dangerous warlord in the Taliban insurgency, responsible for the most bloody attacks, including one last month in Kabul in which 64 people were killed.

“Based purely on matters of hierarchy, (Haqqani) would be the favorite to succeed Mansour,” said Michael Kugelman, a senior associate at the Woodrow Wilson Institute think tank.

The Taliban were also considering Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob, the son of Taliban founder Mullah Mohammad Omar, a potential unifier because of his father’s name. Former Guantanamo detainee Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir and Mullah Sherin were also cited, the sources said.

(With AFP, Reuters)

 

Afghan Taliban sources confirm Mullah Mansour death

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