Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Akhtar Mansour was killed in a U.S. airstrike in Pakistan, President Obama confirmed on Monday.
The president, who is currently traveling in Vietnam, labeled the development an "important milestone" in the U.S. effort to bring peace to Afghanistan in a written statement released by the White House. He said that Mansour’s death should send "a clear message to all those who target our people and our partners–you will have no safe haven."
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Mansour was killed last week when an American drone fired on his vehicle in Baluchistan, a province located in southwestern Pakistan. It remains unclear whether the leader was killed on Friday or Saturday. In the wake of the announcement, top Taliban figures were meeting to agree on a successor, Reuters reported.
Mansour was named as the Taliban’s new leader only last year after the group confirmed the demise of Mullah Mohammad Omar, who died in 2013.
"We have removed the leader of an organization that has continued to plot against and unleash attacks on American and Coalition forces, to wage war against the Afghan people, and align itself with extremist groups like al Qaeda," Obama said in the statement.
"Mansour rejected efforts by the Afghan government to seriously engage in peace talks and end the violence that has taken the lives of countless innocent Afghan men, women and children. 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."
During a news conference in Vietnam on Monday, Obama said that the drone strike on Mansour did not signal a change in the U.S. military strategy in Afghanistan, the Associated Press reported.
"We are not re-entering the day-to-day combat operations that are currently being conducted by Afghan security forces," Obama stated. "Our job is to help Afghanistan secure its own country, not to have our men and women in uniform engage in that fight for them."
"On the other hand, where we have a high-profile leader who has been consistently part of plans and operations to potentially harm U.S. personnel and who has been resistant to the kinds of peace talks and reconciliation that ultimately could bring an end to decades of war in Afghanistan, then it is my responsibility as commander in chief not to stand by, but to make sure that we send a clear signal to the Taliban and others that we’re going to protect our people," the president continued.
Obama ended the combat mission in Afghanistan in 2014. Still, Obama announced last year that thousands of American troops would stay in Afghanistan through 2017, after he leaves office, amid evidence of the Taliban’s resurgence and increased threats from ISIS in the region.
Data from the United Nations released last fall indicated that the Taliban had more power in Afghanistan since U.S. forces facilitated the group’s ouster in 2001.