Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour was killed by an American airstrike last weekend, less than a year after it was confirmed the group’s previous leader was killed in a similar attack in 2013. Calling the death a “significant milestone”, President Obama had another medal pinned to his chest.
The unfortunate thing is that his death will have almost no impact on our perpetual war with the Taliban.
The American approach to fighting terrorism is to target as many of their fighters and officials as possible, sometimes with inaccurate intelligence. Like a bad cold, the Taliban just keeps holding on, and the medicines that are supposed to shake it don’t really work. Half a week after Mansour was killed they have already chosen a new leader, Haibatullah Akhundzada, former chief of the Taliban’s sharia-based justice system.
Obama advised that “the Taliban should seize the opportunity to pursue the only real path to ending this long conflict — joining the Afghan government in a reconciliation process that leads to lasting peace and stability.” Sporadic attempts at diplomacy have taken place over the past several years, but without much effect. Any hopes of peace were dashed in 2013 when the United States took out the longtime leader and Taliban founder Mullah Omar. Now with two leaders killed in very recent memory, the chances of those peace talks occurring are as unlikely as ever.
Furthermore, this attack took place on Pakistani soil, near its border with Afghanistan. The Pentagon’s shaky justification files under a law authorizing defensive strikes in Afghanistan against people engaged in activity threatening U.S. and coalition personnel. Because the strike was conducted in Pakistan, Obama’s authorization was required. Pakistan’s foreign ministry said in a statement that the attack was “a violation of its sovereignty, an issue which has been raised with the United States in the past as well.” The best-known example of this was when U.S. special ops forces dropped into a Taliban compound in 2011, killing Osama Bin Laden, mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. The symbolism and moral boost behind the death of Bin Laden might have been worth trespassing into sovereign Pakistan, but it that case is much harder to make when hardly anybody in the U.S. had heard of the guy until he was killed.
If the United States hopes to stabilize the situation in Afghanistan, cooperation with Pakistan is essential. It has provided sanctuary to the Taliban in return for their wrath being turned elsewhere. Through this open border, their forces can operate freely in Afghanistan and then withdraw safely into Pakistan. Only so many of these illegal attacks can be made without serious consequences from the international community, and the few which the United States does conduct are not enough to cause enduring harm to their cause.
But if we are satisfied keeping 10,000 troops stationed in Afghanistan for eternity, playing a game of whack-a-mole with insurgents, I can confidently say we’re right on schedule.