President Obama said he didn’t expect a “liberal democrat” to be elected to lead the Taliban, but expected “short term” violence as the administration leans on the terror group to accept a peace deal with the Afghan government.
The Taliban named their 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, got the nod.
The group said in a statement acknowledging Mansour’s “martyrdom” that his death would only increase their “steadfastness.” They said Akhundzada was approved by “consent of all the Shura members” and called it a “religious duty” to continue the Taliban mission of establishing an Islamic emirate.
They stressed that jihad will continue under the leadership of the Taliban veteran, a cleric who was administrative assistant for late Mullah Omar.
“This continues to be an organization that sees violence as a strategy for obtaining its goals and moving its agenda forward in Afghanistan,” Obama acknowledged during a press conference at the G7 meeting in Ise-Shima, Japan. “We have a democratically elected government in Afghanistan that we’re supporting, and our goal right now is to make sure that that constitution and that democratic process is upheld — not to mention that we’re able to maintain the counterterrorism platforms that we need in that region so that al-Qaeda and now ISIL are not able to take root and use that as bases to attack us in the United States.”
“My hope — although not my expectation — is that there comes a point at which the Taliban recognizes that they are not going to simply be able to overrun the country and that what they need to be doing is to enter into serious reconciliation talks that are led by Afghans.”
Though the White House has pushed hard for that, Obama acknowledged he’s “doubtful that that will be happening anytime soon.”
“And we’ll have to wait and see how those things develop,” the president added. “In the short term, we anticipate that the Taliban will continue to pursue an agenda of violence and VBIEDS and blowing up innocent people, and the kinds of actions that have characterized their approach over the last 15, 20 years.”
“But I do think that there will come a point, perhaps not this year, next year, but eventually, where there are those within the community that surrounds the Taliban, at least, that recognize their goals are best achieved by negotiations.”
At the Pentagon on Thursday, press secretary Peter Cook stressed that “the responsible thing for the Taliban leadership to do at this point would be to pursue a pathway to a peaceful resolution with the unity government in Afghanistan.”
“And again, that would be the responsible thing to do, because the Afghan forces with the support of the United States, our partners there, are going to continue to improve and show more skills and capabilities. And they’re going to continue to be able to work towards ultimately securing the country on their own,” Cook said.
“And that’s the ultimate goal here. And they’re going to have our support in the process. And so the wise thing for the Taliban leadership to do would be to — to factor that into their decision-making and choose a different path. And we’ll wait to see what they do.”
Asked if the new mullah would be targeted in drone strike like Mullah Mansour, Cook noted that “we carried out a strike against a Taliban leader who had plotted against the United States forces and had led a group that carried out attacks against U.S. forces.”
“And we will continue to do whatever we need to do to protect our forces.”