SURPRISE: Taliban’s New Leader Was A Public Figure In Pakistan

REUTERS/Naseer Ahmed

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Saagar Enjeti White House Correspondent
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The Taliban’s new leader openly taught, preached, and lived in Pakistan for nearly 15 years without any Pakistani effort to stop him, Reuters reports.

Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada succeeded Mullah Akthar Mansour as Taliban Emir in May 2016, after a U.S. drone strike killed Mansour. Taliban leaders quickly selected Akhundazada to lead the Taliban, in light of his strong religious credentials. “Once he became Emir, he left with his whole family,” the leader of his former Mosque confirmed.

Akhundzada was a well known preacher at the mosque, which served as the only schooling for local village boys.

“He spoke with a lot of force about the U.S. and the war and that we would not give up our jihad, that we would never negotiate with the puppet government in Afghanistan or talk to the U.S.,” a Pakistani man who heard him speak at an anti-US rally in 2014 said, according to Reuters.

Akhundzada has pledged not to reconcile with the U.S.-backed Afghan government as long as U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan. Under Akhundzada, the Taliban made their largest battlefield gains since the end of the NATO combat mission in 2014. The Taliban is currently besieging two major cities in Afghanistan, and the U.S.-backed Afghan Security Forces are losing 18 men a day.

Reports of Akhundzada’s open life in Pakistan are unsurprising. Mansour reportedly lived openly in the Pakistani city of Quetta openly for years, even receiving a security detail from the Pakistan security service after he became the Taliban’s leader. Mansour even reportedly owned a telecommunications company, and owned several properties in Dubai.

Afghan intelligence officials told The New York Times in October 2015 that Mansour had several fake passports, and routinely flew around the world despite being on the United Nation’s no-fly list. Mansour was eventually killed in a drone strike, after returning from a business trip to Iran on a fake Pakistani passport.

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