Taliban Appoints New Leader, Kills Eleven in Kabul
A death was confirmed and a new leader appointed on Wednesday by the Taliban, the Afghanistan based Islamic terrorist group, according to an official statement from the group. The death: Mullah Akhtar Mansour, the former leader who was killed in an American drone strike last week in Baluchistan province in western Pakistan. The promotion: Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada, a fifty-something judicial leader and spiritual authority who was chosen to succeed Mansour.
“All the shura members have pledged allegiance to Sheikh Haibatullah in a safe place in Afghanistan,” the Taliban issued in a statement to the media. “All people are required to obey the new Emir-al-Momineen [commander of the faithful].”
Akhundzada is notable because of his relative anonymity within Taliban ranks and his lack of battlefield experience. He served as a deputy to Mansour, and was the lead justice when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan from the mid ’90s to the early ’00s, when U.S. forces invaded the country and toppled the group. He was selected over two presumptive front runners, an operations leader and the son of the group’s founder, Mullah Muhammad Omar, who died of tuberculosis in 2013. Instead, the two men were selected as deputies under Akhundzada.
Not all factions within the Taliban agree with the new appointment. Some members of the Noorzai tribe–to which Akhundzada belongs–are unhappy with not being consulted on the matter, even though Akhundzada is a fellow Noorzai. A spokesman for the breakaway Noorzais anticipates a revolt in response to the decision which, he said, was made by a small contingent of elders rather than the usual few hundred group members.
While solidarity within the group seems elusive at the moment, the Taliban making peace with local governments is a hope the U.S. has held for years, and continues to work toward. The killing of Mansour signaled a shift in the U.S.’s patience with Pakistan–which has been accused of providing safe passage and relative safety for terrorist groups–when making battlefield decisions against the Taliban. Pakistan was to play interlocutor between the Afghan government and the Taliban in peace negotiations, though under the leadership of Mansour, that seemed like a fledgling reality. It remains to be seen whether Akhundzada is a more moveable negotiator.
In the meantime, the Taliban wasted no time in carrying out its deadly public strikes, as a van carrying government officials in Afghanistan was attacked on Wednesday. At least eleven people were killed and four injured.