KABUL, May 25 : The Afghan Taliban on Wednesday announced Haibatullah Akhundzada as their new chief, elevating a low-profile religious figure in a swift power transition after officially confirming the death of Mullah Mansour in a US drone strike.
The surprise announcement coincided with a Taliban suicide bombing near Kabul which killed at least 10 court employees in what was termed a revenge, illustrating the potency of the insurgency despite the change of leadership.
Akhundzada is seen as a unifying figure in an increasingly fragmented militant movement, though it remains unclear whether he will follow Mansour in shunning peace negotiations with the Afghan government.
"Haibatullah Akhundzada has been appointed as the new leader of the Islamic Emirate (Taliban) after a unanimous agreement in the shura (supreme council), and all the members of shura pledged allegiance to him," the insurgents said in a statement.
It added that Sirajuddin Haqqani, an implacable foe of US forces, and Mullah Yakoub, the son of Taliban founder Mullah Omar, were appointed his deputies.
"The leader of Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and commander of faithful, Mullah Akhtar Mansour, was martyred, in a US drone strike in... Pakistan's Balochistan province," the statement said, in the insurgents' first confirmation of his death, using the Taliban's official name.
US President Barack Obama, who authorised the drone strikes, had confirmed the death on Monday. He said Mansour had rejected efforts "to seriously engage in peace talks", asserting that direct negotiations with the Afghan government were the only way to end the attritional conflict.
"The status quo remains unchanged" after Akhundzada's appointment, Taliban expert Rahimullah Yousafzai said. ?AFP