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Another Taliban Leader Killed. What Next?

Posted May 25th, 2016 at 5:41 pm (UTC-4)
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Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour is seen in this undated handout photograph by the Taliban. (Reuters)

Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour is seen in this undated handout photograph by the Taliban. (Reuters)

President Barack Obama called the killing of Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour “an important milestone” in U.S. efforts to bring peace to Afghanistan. Obama’s statement Monday went on to explain that Mansour rejected peace talks with Afghanistan and was plotting attacks against U.S. and Coalition forces.

How the drone strike that killed Mansour was carried out raises as many questions as the act itself. It took place on Pakistan soil, in Baluchistan rather than along the frontier with Afghanistan. It’s still murky whether Pakistan intelligence or military officials helped the U.S. or had advance warning. There’s even an Iran element to the intrigue.

The Taliban has named a successor, someone said to hold the same views as his predecessor about negotiations with the Afghan government. As the U.S. decides how (and whether) to draw down forces in Afghanistan, will the short term success bring long term peace?

What Happens After the Drone Strike

Editorial Board – The New York Times

The killing is certain to worsen relations between Pakistan and America, which are already frayed. Other effects are less predictable. The Taliban moved quickly on Wednesday to name Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada, a deputy to Mr. Mansour with strong religious credentials, as the new leader. One hopeful possibility is that he and other Taliban leaders will now feel more threatened, thus more amenable to peacemaking. Conversely, the Taliban, which now suffers from internal divisions, could continue in their aggressive ways. A third possibility is that it could lose fighters to the Islamic State. In any case, studies suggest that killing terrorist leaders usually does not mean an end to the violence.

The question to Mr. Obama is whether this killing is merely an end in itself or part of a strategy to drive Pakistan, America’s supposed ally, and Taliban leaders to the peace table.

The Magical Thinking of Killing Mullah Mansour

Rosa Brooks – Foreign Policy

Another day, another dead terrorist leader. This time, the dead terrorist guy was Taliban chief Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, killed by a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan, and everyone is cheering, because everyone knows that each dead terrorist leader is, well, another dead terrorist leader….

So what’s the point of all these killings?

Watch: Video from the scene of the drone strike killing Mullah Mansour

There’s some decent academic theory behind so-called “decapitation strikes”: The idea is that killing senior bad guys throws their organizations into disarray, rendering them less effective, while simultaneously convincing junior bad guys and potential recruits that the risk of death just isn’t worth it.

Intuitively, it’s an appealing idea; it just doesn’t seem to be working out as planned.

Is the Obama Administration Changing Its Strategy in Afghanistan?

Kori Schake – National Review

Since our combat mission in Afghanistan is ostensibly over, our rules of engagement require that Taliban have to be posing a direct threat to U.S. or coalition forces to be subject to direct action. Targeting Taliban leaders inside Afghanistan has been discouraged in order to facilitate the reconciliation process among Afghans — so we killed a man in Pakistan that we could not have killed in the country where we are at war.

The Afghan government commended the strike; Pakistan predictably (but mildly) protested this violation of their sovereignty. The New York Times’s reporting suggests that Pakistan had known for weeks we were targeting Mansour and even provided some help. It is possible Pakistan’s domestic-terrorism fight has better aligned our interests in Afghanistan. Perhaps the Pakistanis even agreed Mansour was a danger to us all. More likely is that Pakistan’s intelligence services had chosen a preferred successor to Mansour in order to increase their influence in Afghanistan.

What Does the U.S. Killing Mullah Mansour Inside Pakistan Mean?

Mohammad Taqi – The Huffington Post

It is simply inconceivable that Mullah Mansour could have lived large in Balochistan and was appointed the Taliban leader without the Pakistani army’s knowledge, approval and patronage….

While some in Pakistan are trying to spin the Mullah Mansour assassination as some sort of cooperation between the US and Pakistan, where the latter tipped off the Americans because the Taliban leader was averse to peace talks, it actually smacks of distrust the size of the Grand Canyon….

Taliban new leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada is seen in an undated photograph, posted on a Taliban twitter feed on May 25, 2016, and identified separately by several Taliban officials, who declined be named. (Reuters)

Taliban new leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada is seen in an undated photograph, posted on a Taliban twitter feed on May 25, 2016, and identified separately by several Taliban officials, who declined be named. (Reuters)

Pakistan cannot have its jihadist cake and eat it too; it either controls or the Taliban and is responsible for their deadly actions or should act against them. Letting its soil serve as a bridgehead against Afghanistan and then crying foul when it is called out for it cannot go on forever.

Who Is the New Taliban Leader?

Krishnadev Calamur – The Atlantic

The Taliban’s new leader, Haibatullah Akhundzada, is being described as a “hardline religious scholar” who issues most of the group’s fatwas, as well as “well-educated and respected,” with at least one regional expert saying his appointment “will not fully appease all factions within the Taliban.

Writing in the Long War Journal, Bill Roggio says the new leader may unify the Taliban, which was riven by factionalism under Mansour’s leadership, but he is unlikely to alter its position on opposing talks with the Afghan government.

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