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Taliban Announces Extremist Scholar As New Leader Following Fatal Drone Strike

Taliban leader Mullah Mansour was killed in a U.S. drone strike in a remote area near the Afghanistan–Pakistan border last week.

Last updated on May 25, 2016, at 3:22 a.m. ET

Posted on May 21, 2016, at 5:06 p.m. ET

Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada.
Afghan Islamic Press / AP

Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada.

The Afghan Taliban has announced a successor to leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike last week.

In a statement, the Taliban said their new leader would be Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, who was one of Mansour's deputies. He is a scholar known for his extremist views, the Associated Press reported.

Mansour was killed in a drone attack in Pakistan on Saturday after the U.S. military launched an airstrike against him in a remote area near the Afghanistan–Pakistan border, Pentagon spokesperson Peter Cook said Saturday.

Mansour.
Reuters

Mansour.

Officials said the Taliban leader had been actively planning attacks on facilities in Kabul and throughout Afghanistan.

On Sunday, the Afghan National Directorate of Security tweeted that Mansour had been killed in the attack. And later the same day, President Barack Obama confirmed the death in a speech.

"With the death of Taliban leader Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, 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," Obama said.

Today DoD carried out a precision airstrike targeting Taliban leader Mullah Mansur. Another step to make our troops safer in Afghanistan

The strike took place around 6 a.m. ET Saturday, an unnamed U.S. official told CNN.

Mansour rose to power in July 2015 when Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani confirmed that Mullah Mohammad Omar, the group's previous leader, had died in Pakistan in April 2013.

The Pentagon said in a statement Saturday's airstrike was one more “step to make our troops safer in Afghanistan.”

"[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," the statement read.

In a statement posted on Twitter, President Ghani confirmed Afghanistan's government was aware of the drone strike. "Mullah Akhtar Mansour refused to answer repeated calls by the people and the government of Afghanistan to end the war and violence in the country," he said.

"Sheltering himself in hideouts outside of Afghanistan, Mullah Akhtar Mansour was involved in a number of criminal activities. He engaged in deception, concealment of facts, drug-smuggling and terrorism while intimidating, maiming and killing innocent Afghans.

"In the event of Mullah Mansour’s killing, a new opportunity presents itself to those Taliban who are willing to end war and bloodshed. They can return to the country from the foreigners’ land and join the Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace process."

Later on Sunday Pakistan's Foreign Office issued a statement denouncing the drone attack. The statement said one of the victims of the attack was a driver named Muhammad Azam, while the identity of the second was "being verified."

A group comprising the United States, China, Afghanistan, and Pakistan met on Wednesday, the statement said, to discuss ways to revisit stalled peace talks between Kabul and the Taliban. The group decided "a politically negotiated settlement was the only viable option for lasting peace in Afghanistan," the statement claimed.

This vehicle was found destroyed at Kochaki along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. The driver's name was Muhammad Azam whose body has been identified and collected by his relatives. The identity of the second body is being verified on the basis of evidence found at the site of the incident and other relevant information.

While further investigations are being carried out, Pakistan wishes to once again state that the drone attack was a violation of its sovereignty, an issue which has been raised with the United States in the past as well.

Since taking leadership, the Taliban has conducted multiple attacks that have resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians and security forces in the country, officials said.

Pentagon officials said the results of Saturday's strike were being assessed.

Officials said that a second man who may have been traveling with Mansour could also have been killed.

The day after the announcement of Mullah Mohammad Omar's death, the Taliban announced Mansour as its new leader.

Mansour has been characterized within the Taliban as a "moderate" member, and had advocated for peace talks in Pakistan before the announcement of Omar's death.

The targeted leader had also spoken publicly about the importance of keeping ISIS out of Afghanistan.

He once wrote in June 2015 that "Jihad against the American invaders and its puppets should be carried out under a single flag, a single leadership, and a single order."

Here is Obama's full statement on the death of Mansour:

Today marks an important milestone in our longstanding effort to bring peace and prosperity to Afghanistan. With the death of Taliban leader Akhtar Mohammad Mansur, 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 Qa'ida.

Mansur rejected efforts by the Afghan government to seriously engage in peace talks and end the violence that has taken the lives of countless innocent Afghan men, women and children. 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.

As an enduring partner of the Afghan people, the United States will continue to help strengthen Afghan security forces and support President Ghani and the National Unity Government in their efforts to forge the peace and progress that Afghans deserve. We will continue taking action against extremist networks that target the United States. We will work on shared objectives with Pakistan, where terrorists that threaten all our nations must be denied safe haven. After so many years of conflict, today gives the people of Afghanistan and the region a chance at a different, better future.

I thank our dedicated military and intelligence personnel who have once again sent a clear message to all those who target our people and our partners - you will have no safe haven. Today is a day for us to give thanks to all of the Americans who have served in Afghanistan for so many years with a selfless commitment to the security of our nation and a better future for the Afghan people.

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