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Afghan Taliban Appoint New Leader

A car is seen on fire at the site of a drone strike that killed Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Akthar Mansur in southwest Pakistan on May 21.

The Afghan Taliban have announced a new leader to replace Mullah Akhtar Mansur who was killed in a U.S. drone strike last week.

In a statement on May 25, the group confirmed Mansur's death and named Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, one of Mansur's two deputies and a former head of the Taliban's judiciary, as successor.

The statement said Akhundzada was appointed “after a unanimous agreement” in a meeting of Taliban leaders, which was believed to have been held in Pakistan.

Also selected to serve as deputies were Sirajuddin Haqqani, head of a network blamed for many high-profile bombs attacks in Kabul in recent years, and Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob, son of former leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, said Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid.

Mansur was killed in Pakistan on May 21 when his vehicle was struck by a U.S. drone in Pakistan's southwestern province of Balochistan.

He was declared the leader of the Taliban in July 2015, just days after the Afghan government confirmed that Taliban spiritual leader Mullah Mohammad Omar had died in the Pakistani port city of Karachi two years earlier.

But a leadership dispute immediately ensued with some Taliban commanders refusing to recognize Mansur.

U.S. and Afghan officials said Mansur had been an obstacle to efforts to bring peace to Afghanistan, where the Taliban have been waging an insurgency for 15 years.

But according to Rahimullah Yousafzai, a prominent Pakistani journalist who specializes in covering militants, "The status quo remains unchanged" after Akhundzada's appointment.

"I don't foresee any shift from Mansur's policies,” Yousafzai added. "[Akhundzada] is unlikely to negotiate with the Afghan government."

"Even if [Akhundzada] favors peace talks, he is unlikely to proceed without consensus" within the Taliban's main leadership council where many oppose negotiations, said Amir Rana, the director of Pak Institute for Peace Studies in Islamabad.

The Taliban ruled Afghanistan according to a harsh interpretation of Islamic law until the group was toppled by a U.S.-led invasion following the September 11, 2001, attacks.

The movement has since been fighting to overthrow the Kabul government.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP