An image purportedly showing the new leader of the Afghan Taliban Haibatullah Akhundzada
Taliban have appointed Haibatullah Akhundzada as their new leader, officially confirming that their former chief Mullah Akhtar Mansour was killed in a US drone strike last week.
“Haibatullah Akhundzada has been appointed as the new leader of Taliban after a unanimous agreement in the Shura (supreme council),” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said on Wednesday.
Haibatullah previously served as a deputy to Mansour and was a former head of the Taliban’s “judiciary.”
Sirajuddin Haqqani, the head of a network responsible for a series of powerful bomb attacks across Kabul in recent years, and Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob, the son of founder Mullah Mohammad Omar, were also named deputies.
On May 21, the US Department of Defense announced in a statement that it had killed Mansour in a drone strike “in a remote area of the Afghanistan
-Pakistan border region.”
about Mullah Mansour’s death came amid reports that splinter groups within the Taliban were refusing to pledge allegiance to him.
There have also been growing differences among Taliban elements over peace talks with the Afghan government, with some vowing to fight for power instead of taking part in negotiations.
This photograph, taken on May 21, 2016, shows local Pakistani residents gathering around a destroyed vehicle in which Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour was believed to be traveling in the remote town of Ahmad Wal, southern Pakistan, when he was killed in a US drone raid. (Photo by AFP)
The Taliban have also seen a string of defections ever since the news about the death of its founder and long-time leader, Mullah Omar, broke in late July 2015. He had reportedly died at a hospital in Pakistan’s southern port city of Karachi in April 2013.
The Taliban said they had concealed his death for two years as they did not want to make it public until foreign forces would have ended their fight against the militants in Afghanistan.
Bomb attack in Kabul
Meanwhile, at least ten people were killed and four others sustained injuries on Wednesday in a bombing attack that targeted a bus carrying court employees in Kabul.
Afghan policemen are seen near the site of a bomb attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, May 25, 2016. (Photo by Reuters)
Najib Danish, the deputy spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry, said an assailant detonated his explosives-laden jacket as he walked to the vehicle in the western part of the Afghan capital.
No group has yet claimed responsibility for the Kabul attack. But Taliban is the likely culprit.
The Taliban militant group recently announced the start of its annual spring offensive against Afghan security forces and US-led foreign forces across the conflict-ridden country.
The Taliban said in a statement that the campaign had begun on April 12.
The Afghan Taliban confirmed on Wednesday that their former leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour was killed in a U.S. drone strike last week and that they have appointed a successor.
In a statement sent to media, the insurgent group said its new leader is Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, one of two of Mansour’s deputies. It said he was chosen at a meeting of Taliban leaders, which was believed to have been held in Pakistan.
Mansour was killed in Pakistan on Saturday when his vehicle was struck by a U.S. drone, an attack that is believed to be the first time a Taliban leader was killed in such a way inside Pakistani territory.
Pakistani authorities are believed to have given shelter and support to some Taliban leaders over the Afghan border. The insurgents have been fighting to overthrow the Kabul government since 2001, when their own Islamist regime was overthrown by the U.S. invasion.
Mansour had led the Taliban since last summer, when the death of the movement’s founder, the one-eyed Mullah Mohammad Omar became public. Mansour ran the movement in Mullah Omar’s name for more than two years. The revelation of Mullah Omar’s death and Mansour’s deception led to widespread mistrust, with some senior leaders leaving the group to set up their own factions.The U.S. and Afghan governments said Mansour had been an obstacle to a peace process that had ground to a halt when he refused to participate in peace talks earlier this year. Instead, he intensified the war in Afghanistan, now in its 15th year.
Senior Taliban figures have said his death could strengthen the movement, as he was a divisive figure. The identity of his successor was expected to be an indication of the direction the insurgency would take, either toward peace or continued war.
Akhundzada is a religious scholar known for issuing public statements justifying the existence of the extremist Taliban, their war against the Afghan government and the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan. His views are regarded as hawkish, and he could be expected to continue in the aggressive footsteps of Mansour.
Wednesday’s statement said two new deputies had also been appointed ” both of whom had earlier been thought to be the main contenders for the top job. They are Sirajuddin Haqqani, who was also one of Mansour’s deputies, and the son of Mullah Omar, Mullah Yaqoub.
The Taliban statement called on all Muslims to mourn Mansour for three days. It also attempted to calm any qualms among the rank and file by calling for unity and obedience to the new leader.