Taliban name new leader after confirming predecessor died in U.S. strike

The New York Times reports: The Taliban broke their silence early Wednesday over the death of their leader, Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, confirming in a statement that he had been killed in an American drone strike.

Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada, a deputy to Mullah Mansour, was selected as the new leader of the Taliban, and Sarajuddin Haqqani and Mullah Muhammad Yaqoub were chosen as his deputies, the movement’s leadership council said in the statement. Mullah Yaqoub is the son of the previous Taliban chief, Mullah Muhammad Omar, whose death was acknowledged in July 2015.

President Obama said Monday that Mullah Mansour had been killed in a drone strike Saturday in a restive province of Pakistan.

The Taliban’s spokesmen, who publish regular updates from battlefields across Afghanistan, had remained silent since Mullah Mansour’s killing, as the movement’s leaders convened in the Pakistani city of Quetta to discuss his burial, as well as his successor.

One of their first meetings was at the home of Mawlawi Haibatullah, a figure with deep religious credentials who had been a lesser-known deputy to Mullah Mansour. Over the past year, more attention had focused on another deputy, Mr. Haqqani, who increasingly had been running the day-to-day war for the Taliban as Mullah Mansour was occupied with a campaign of quashing internal dissent and with travel abroad.

Taliban commanders who were aware of the conversations in Quetta had described Mawlawi Haibatullah as a voice guiding the discussions of succession, but not as a front-runner for the leadership.

Many of the movement’s leaders had pushed for a relatively obscure figure to succeed Mullah Mansour — to avoid a divisive personality and for purposes of enhanced security, keeping in mind that Mullah Omar’s reclusive ways long protected him and even concealed his death for years. It appeared Wednesday that such criteria had served Mawlawi Haibatullah well. [Continue reading…]

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