The Taliban named a new leader four days after Mullah Mansour was killed in a U.S. drone strike while driving through Pakistan.
One of Mansour’s two deputies, Haibatullah Akhundzada, is the group’s new mullah.
Afghanistan’s Tolo News, in a profile of Taliban leaders last December, said Mullah Haibatullah is “considered influential” over madrasas in Balochistan, the Pakistani region where Mansour was killed.
Haibatullah, who hails from southern Afghanistan and lives in Quetta, was administrative assistant to Mullah Omar. The Taliban admitted last summer that the one-eyed mullah had been dead for two years; Mansour took over after that.
Mansour had recently launched Operation Omari, the Taliban spring offensive named in honor of Mullah Omar.
Haibatullah is a cleric known for his Quranic interpretations and was entrusted by Mullah Omar to give the last word on fatwas, particularly those justifying terrorist operations. He was a leader of the judiciary when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan.
He’s been active in day-to-day Taliban operations and his name was already floated as a likely, seamless successor should something happen to Mullah Mansour. Another front-runner was Mullah Omar’s son, Mullah Yaqoob — who isn’t even 30 years old but reportedly runs Taliban military ops in 15 provinces.
When Mansour was rumored to have been killed in a shootout last December, Haibatullah was named acting leader of the group. Some Taliban angry with this move split off into a faction led by Mullah Rasoul, but Haibatullah soon brokered a ceasefire with the breakaway group.
The only delay in naming a successor was reportedly the security concern of gathering the Taliban’s leadership council together for the vote. Those who couldn’t make it were still consulted, Pakistan’s Express-Tribune was told.
Sirajuddin Haqqani, who was Mansour’s other deputy, and Yaqoob were named Haibatullah’s deputies.
President Obama declared Mansour’s assassination “an important milestone in our longstanding effort to bring peace and prosperity to Afghanistan” — in hopes that a new mullah would be more open to a peace deal long pushed by the White House.
“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,” Obama said Monday.