Multiple American drones operated by special forces stuck a convoy suspected to contain Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, the leader of the Afghan branch of the Taliban.The strike was authorized by President Obama and took place in a remote area of Pakistan near the Afghan border. While the strike targeted Mansour it is unknown whether the leader has survived. Initially, the U.S government has claimed he has likely died in the attack and the Taliban said he was still alive. Media reports have now emerged indicating that a top Taliban commander has confirmed his death.**
The strike marks a shift in U.S strategy which many generals have been advocating for. Prior to this strike, U.S strategy was to advance reconciliation with the hope of a pursuing a political solution to the fight between the Afghan government and the Taliban insurgency. This attack is a clear break from the reconciliation strategy into one of pressuring the Taliban with force.
But, because this strike was personally authorized by president Obama, Generals still likely don’t the authority to attack the Taliban without permission. Obama is fairly escalation averse and will likely keep the key’s to the drone hanger close to him.
Either way, the gloves have clearly come off. Whether they are off completely is something that we will only find out in the coming weeks. But, even if the generals do not have authorization to fight the Taliban, Obama has ways of attacking them. He was of course the same president who used drones to wage an assassination campaign against Al-Qaeda from the Oval Office.
The fact that this strike took place in Pakistan is also significant. U.S- Pakistani relations have taken a dive in recent years over the Pakistani governments relationship with the Afghan Taliban and accusations that they may helped harbor Bin-Laden. Aid was cut down in 2015 and just recently the U.S told Pakistan that if they want new F-16 fighters they would need to pay for them themselves without subsidies.
The strike may have been a signal to Pakistan as well as the Taliban. Although, experts seem to believe Pakistan was in on the strike, signaling a different shift in relations.*
In any case, this attack indicates an escalation against the Taliban and a strategic shift in America’s longest war.
**UPDATE: Report from TOLO news