World Asia 23 May 2016 Afghan Taliban leade ...

Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Mansour was man of war, not peace talks

AFP
Published May 23, 2016, 2:02 pm IST
Updated May 23, 2016, 2:02 pm IST
Barack Obama confirmed Mansour was killed in the strike in Pakistan's southwestern province of Balochistan.
Afghan Taliban Chief Mullah Akhtar Mansour killed by a US drone strike on May 21. (Photo: AP)
 Afghan Taliban Chief Mullah Akhtar Mansour killed by a US drone strike on May 21. (Photo: AP)

Kabul: Mullah Akhtar Mansour, killed by a US drone strike on May 21, took over as head of the Afghan Taliban last July and oversaw intensified attacks which left Afghan police and troops struggling to respond.

Mansour, appointed following the revelation that the group's founder Mullah Omar had been dead for two years, was initially thought to favour peace talks. But after becoming leader he repeatedly refused to come to the negotiating table.

 

US President Barack Obama on Monday confirmed Mansour was killed in the strike in Pakistan's southwestern province of Balochistan, hailing his death as an "important milestone" in efforts to bring peace to Afghanistan.

For some Mansour was the obvious choice to succeed Mullah Omar, the one-eyed warrior-cleric who led the Taliban from its rise in the chaos of the Afghan civil war of the 1990s.

Like Omar he was born in the southern province of Kandahar, was part of the movement from the start and was effectively in charge since 2013, according to Taliban sources.

 

Mansour, born in the early 1960s, spent part of his life in Pakistan along with millions of Afghans who fled the 1979-89 Soviet occupation.

There he reportedly developed links with the country's Inter-Services Intelligence agency, which nurtured the Taliban in the 1990s and even now is regularly accused of fuelling the insurgency.

He served as civil aviation minister in the Taliban government which ruled Afghanistan from 1996 until it was ousted by a US-led invasion in 2001, when he fled again to Pakistan.

Mansour repeatedly showed a canny ability to navigate between different strands of the Taliban movement, from the Quetta Shura to the "political office" in Qatar to commanders on the ground in Afghanistan.

 

Rocky start

In order to take the leadership he outmanoeuvred Mullah Yakoub, Omar's son who was favoured by some commanders as new leader but was judged by others as too young and inexperienced at age 26.

But Mansour's leadership got off to a rocky start. After news of Omar's death two years previously was announced by Afghan officials, some insurgents were unhappy at Mansour's deception. Others accused him of riding roughshod over the process to appoint a successor.

While Mansour was close to his predecessor, he was not noted for possessing Omar's aura of religious authority, although the Taliban did confer upon him the former chief's title of "leader of the faithful".

 

He initially faced a huge challenge in trying to unite a movement that was already showing signs of fragmenting. Questions about his legitimacy in its highest echelons did nothing to bolster his position.

But Mansour quickly set out to consolidate his authority, rooting out opposition to his leadership by buying the support of rebellious commanders, quashing renegade groups and luring dissidents with leadership positions.

There was speculation about Mansour's fate last summer following reports he was critically wounded in a firefight with his own commanders in Pakistan shortly after taking over.

 

The Taliban subsequently released an audio message purportedly from Mansour, vehemently rejecting reports of any shootout as "enemy propaganda".

The hardline group saw a resurgence under Mansour's leadership, leaving Afghan forces struggling to rein in the expanding insurgency.

The Taliban briefly captured the strategic northern city of Kunduz last September, their most spectacular victory in 14 years.

The militants also claimed a series of high-profile attacks over the past year on embassies, the media and UN and NATO properties in and near the diplomatic quarter in Kabul.

 

In one of his final public messages, Mansour told followers to prepare for "decisive strikes" during the annual spring offensive.

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