The killing of Taliban leader Akhtar Mohammad Mansour in May 2016 by a U.S. drone strike in Baluchistan, Pakistan raised hopes in Washington and Kabul that the tide might be turning in Afghanistan. U.S. President Barack Obama remarked that 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.” Others argued that the Taliban might be significantly weakened by Mansour’s death. “There will be a major change in the situation of the Taliban,” noted Abdullah Abdullah, Afghanistan’s chief executive officer. “It is a huge blow.”
The U.S. strike was notable in several respects. It was one of the few times since 2001 that the United States had targeted Taliban leaders in Pakistan. It was also the first attack carried out by a U.S. drone in the country’s Baluchistan Province, where Islamabad had previously forbidden U.S. strikes and where some members of the Taliban’s senior leadership council, which Mansour headed, live in relative freedom. The fact that Pakistani officials did not vehemently object to the U.S. attack, as they did to the 2011 raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound, suggests that Islamabad at least tacitly approved of the strike against Mansour. Mansour’s death, however, is unlikely to transform the conflict in Afghanistan or improve the prospects for a deal between Kabul and the Taliban. In the coming months, the United States’ presence in the country will be as important as ever.
TROUBLE AT THE TOP
Afghanistan’s internal political divisions are probably the most serious impediment to further progress against the Taliban. Widespread corruption, intra-elite political competition, poor economic performance, and weak governance continue to plague the country. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has repeatedly clashed with the Afghan parliament over such issues