Afghan forces kill 2 top Taliban in Uruzgan province
By CHAD GARLAND | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 29, 2016
KABUL, Afghanistan — Two top Taliban leaders in southern Afghanistan were killed during fighting this weekend, officials said, a week after airstrikes killed the insurgent group’s supreme leader and a top official in restive Helmand province.
The Taliban “shadow governor” for Uruzgan province, identified as Maulavi Jan Agha, and his military commission chief, identified as Asadullah and also known by the nom de guerre Mullah Shakeib, were killed along with nine other insurgent fighters, the Afghan Defense Ministry announced Sunday.
“If we get accurate intelligence information, we won’t wait to eliminate them anywhere in the country,” Gen. Dawlat Waziri, a Defense Ministry spokesman told Stars and Stripes.
Last Saturday, U.S. drone strikes killed the supreme Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour in Pakistan, near the border with Afghanistan. The Taliban shadow governor in Helmand was also reported killed in an Afghan airstrike Monday.
The insurgents have “shadow governors” for all of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, but rarely reveal the names for security reasons. They routinely deny reports that top officials have been harmed or killed. The Taliban quickly denied the killing of its top Helmand leader. There were no immediate statements about the killings in neighboring Uruzgan.
Waziri said the killings would have a strong impact on Taliban fighters.
“When Mullah Omar died, the Taliban split in groups, now Mansour is killed and you see that they are facing a worse situation,” he said, referring to Taliban founder Mullah Mohammad Omar, whose death in 2013 was revealed last summer. Mansour succeeded him as Taliban leader. “If a Taliban commander or governor is killed, their men feel like a pot without a lid and lose morale.”
The Taliban leaders’ deaths in Uruzgan were the result of military operations over the previous 24 hours in the Chora and Khas districts of that province and in the Shah Wali Kot and Maiwand districts of neighboring Kandahar, the ministry said. Five insurgents were also wounded and five improvised explosive devices were defused by the security forces.
Last week, U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Charles Cleveland, a spokesman for the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan, told reporters that Afghan security forces are performing better this year than in 2015 when they suffered record casualties and significant battlefield setbacks. He said they have taken a “more offensive mindset” toward fighting the Taliban.
Waziri has in recent months been touting the stronger Afghan military and its improved capabilities. He has called 2016 the year the Afghan government forces will defeat the Taliban, but he said Sunday that the government “is the voice of peace” and the insurgents must join the dialogue.
“Otherwise they will get killed or arrested,” he said. “Otherwise they don’t have any other option.”
The attacks on the movement’s leadership may be driving home that message.
The Associated Press reported that a senior leader of a faction that broke with the Taliban after Mansour was named the group’s leader told supporters Sunday his group was willing to join peace talks, but would demand imposition of Islamic law and the departure of all foreign troops.
Following the appointment on Wednesday of Mansour’s deputy, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, as his successor, a Taliban spokesman said the insurgent group’s policy of rejecting the peace talks would not change.
Cleveland said last week that the strike on Mansour may not bring the top-level Taliban leadership to the negotiating table in the near term, but it may sway lower-level leaders to choose “the path of peace.”
A district shadow governor, he said, may choose to join the peace process individually, in light of the strike and growing Afghan military prowess, including improved air force capabilities thanks to A-29 Super Tucano light-attack aircraft and MD-530 helicopters.
“He’s now seeing Afghan aircraft dropping bombs on him and Afghan helicopters strafing him,” Cleveland said of a shadow governor’s potential thought process. “He sees Monsour is now dead, who’s been very precisely targeted, and he sees that his future really is going to be violent as the [Afghan military] gets stronger.”
Zubair Babakarkhail contributed to this report.