iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — The Taliban named its newest leader Wednesday, just days after U.S. drone strikes killed former chief Mullah Mansur.
Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada, previously the deputy to Mansur, will take command of the extremist group, according to a Taliban spokesperson. The group released a photo of Akhundzada with the announcement.
Just hours after Akhundzada’s leadership was announced, the Taliban claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing of a minivan in Kabul, which killed at least 10 people. In a statement, the Taliban said the attack was revenge for the executions of six Taliban prisoners by the Afghan government several weeks ago.
Wednesday’s attack, along with the U.S. targeting of Mansur, signal little hope for peace prospects between the Taliban and Afghan government.
A U.S. intelligence official told ABC News the Taliban can either choose to double down on its military focus or choose to work toward reconciliation, a path which has failed to gain traction in the past.
The official said Akhundzada’s appointment will have little affect on the battlefield — aggressive attacks by the Taliban are still expected as this fighting season begins.
Who is Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada?
Akhundzada, 47, was the former chief of the Sharia-based justice system during the Taliban’s five-year rule over Afghanistan, which ended in 2001 with the U.S.-led invasion. He is from the Noorzai tribe and spent most of his life in Kandahar city in the south of Afghanistan.
The Taliban also touted his background in religious studies and experience as a Jihadi leader, in the statement.
Taliban Acknowledges Mansur’s Death
His appointment to the Taliban’s top position comes the same day that the group acknowledged Mansur was killed in a drone strike over Pakistan on Saturday.
The Pentagon said that strike was “defensive” because Mansur was actively involved in plots against U.S. and coalition personnel inside Afghanistan.
During a trip to Vietnam on Monday, President Obama confirmed Mansur was killed in a U.S. strike he had authorized.
The operation targeting Mansur appears to be the first “defensive strike” to have taken place inside Pakistan and required special negotiations under new guidelines for air strikes set last year. Pakistan has previously been accused by both the U.S. and Afghan governments of providing shelter for Taliban leaders.
“We can adjust authorities or take things higher up the chain of command to get approvals and that’s what we did in this case,” Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis said.
The timing of the airstrike had to do more with opportunity and location, to ensure civilian casualties could be avoided as much as possible, he said.
A Different Kind of Announcement
The Taliban’s quick naming of Akhundzada is in stark contrast to how the group handled past leadership changes.
They waited two years to acknowledge the death of one-eyed leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, who the U.S. had hunted for over a decade, and only did so after the Afghan government announced in 2015 that he had died in a Pakistani hospital in 2013.
Following that announcement, a senior Taliban official confirmed to ABC News that Omar had died in 2013 of tuberculosis and was buried in the restive region along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
It wasn’t until Omar’s death became public that the Taliban officially instated Mansur as the new leader, although it was rumored that he was secretly running the organization for the two years that Omar was deceased.
This formal media announcement of Mansur’s death and Akhundzada’s appointment as the new chief marks a different strategy for the organization.
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