UPDATES WITH CONFIRMATION FROM AFGHAN SPY AGENCY
By Aamir Latif, Shadi Khan Saif and Zabihullah Tamanna
KARACHI/KABUL (AA) - The fate of Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor remains unclear Sunday, after Saturday's announcement by the United States that he had been targeted in a drone strike near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
While Saturday’s strike has been confirmed by the Pentagon, whether or not it succeeded in killing the militant commander remains uncertain.
Claims and counter-claims have been made by various sources, including the Afghan government and a purported Taliban military leader.
Pakistani intelligence sources have told Anadolu Agency that a U.S. drone fired missiles at a vehicle on Saturday believed to have been carrying Mansoor and a driver in the Noshki district of Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province, which shares a border with Afghanistan.
The sources were not named due to restrictions on speaking to media.
The local Geo television channel showed undated pictures from a mobile phone of a burnt-out car sitting on a highway at the town of Ahmed Wall -- some 23 kilometers (14.2 miles) from Noshki -- surrounded by a small crowd of onlookers.
Authorities have identified one of those killed as Mohammad Azam, a driver for a local car-rental company, while the second body was identified as that of Wali Mohammad, a passenger who had reportedly rented the car from Taftaan near the Iranian border to Quetta.
The sources say Mansoor could have been using a fake identity, but the television channel quoted local officials as saying that Wali Mohammad had been a resident of the nearby town of Qilla Abdullah.
Mohammad's body has since been taken to a hospital in provincial capital Quetta, where a DNA test will be conducted.
Local television channels aired footage showing a body covered by a blanket at a hospital in Noshki before it was taken to Quetta.
A Pentagon statement released after the purported strike read: "We are still assessing the results of the strike and will provide more information as it becomes available."
To further confuse matters, Mullah Abdul Rauf, a purported Taliban commander, told Pakistan’s ARY television channel that Mansoor had in fact been killed in a Saturday drone strike, but did not specify where the attack took place.
- 'Very confusing'
On Sunday, the National Directorate for Security (NDS), Afghanistan’s official intelligence agency, also appeared to confirm Mansoor’s death.
"Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansoor killed by an air raid in Dalbandin area of Pakistan at 3:45pm on Saturday," the NDS tweeted.
The Taliban, however, has yet to officially comment on claims that their leader was killed.
Meanwhile, Pakistan Foreign Office spokesman Nafees Zakaria told reporters that all reports regarding Mansoor's possible death were "being assessed".
Hamid Mir, an Islamabad-based expert on Afghan affairs, told Anadolu Agency on Sunday that the strike had certainly struck a car along a main highway in the Noshki district, but it still had yet to be confirmed whether the individual killed was in fact Mansoor or just an ordinary citizen.
He said it was quite possible that Mansoor was traveling as an ordinary passenger instead of being surrounded by a throng of bodyguards in an effort to hoodwink U.S. and Pakistani intelligence.
Mir added that he had personally contacted some Taliban commanders who had confirmed the attack but denied Mansoor's death.
"It’s all very confusing, at least for the moment," he said.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has told reporters that Pakistani authorities were duly informed of the strike beforehand, and that he had spoken to Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif regarding the issue.
The Afghan government in Kabul has also confirmed that Mansoor had been targeted in a U.S. drone strike, which, it said, had occurred inside Pakistan’s Balochistan province.
Afghan Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah, who shares executive power with President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani, has tweeted that the government has confirmed the strike on Mansoor.
"Sheltering himself in hideouts outside of Afghanistan, Mullah Akhtar Mansoor was involved in a number of criminal activities," Abdullah asserted.
He added that Mansoor had "refused to answer repeated calls by the people and govt of Afghanistan to end the war and violence in the country".