U.S. President Barack Obama confirmed on Monday that the leader of the Afghan Taliban had been killed in an American air strike, an attack likely to trigger another leadership tussle in a militant movement already riven by internal divisions.
Obama, on a three-day visit to Vietnam, reiterated support for the government in Kabul and the Afghan security forces, and called on the Taliban to join peace talks.
The president authorized the drone strike that killed Mullah Akhtar Mansour in a remote region just on the Pakistani side of the border with Afghanistan on Saturday, and Afghan authorities have said the mission was successful.
But U.S. officials held back from confirming that the Taliban leader had been killed in the attack until intelligence had been fully assessed.
Calling the death “an important milestone“, Obama said Mansour had rejected peace talks and had “continued to plot against and unleash attacks on American and Coalition forces“.
“The Taliban should seize the opportunity to pursue the only real path for ending this long conflict – joining the Afghan government in a reconciliation process that leads to lasting peace and stability,” he said.
However, he stressed that the operation against Mansour did not represent a shift in U.S. strategy in Afghanistan or a return to active engagement in fighting following the end of the international coalition’s main combat mission in 2014.