WASHINGTON: US President Barack Obama said on Monday that the drone strike that killed Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour was also “a clear signal to the Taliban and others” that the United States would not allow such people to operate freely.

“It has been confirmed that he is dead,” said Mr Obama, quashing speculations that the Taliban leader might have survived the Saturday morning attack on his vehicle.

He said the attack was also a clear message to the Taliban and to those who supported them to discontinue their activities.

“It is my responsibility as commander-in-chief not to stand by, but to make sure that we send a clear signal to the Taliban and others that we’re going to protect our people. And that’s exactly the message that has been sent,” he declared.

There was only one sentence about Pakistan in his official statement, saying: “We will work on shared objectives with Pakistan, where terrorists that threaten all our nations must be denied safe haven.”

Diplomatic observers in Washington interpreted this sentence as a reminder to Islamabad that it needs to eliminate alleged terrorist safe havens from Pakistani soil.

Pakistan says it has already eliminated terrorist hideouts from its soil and is willing to act against any identified by the US or other allies.

US and Afghan officials insist that Pakistan still allows the Haqqani network to operate from its territory, a charge Islamabad rejects as incorrect.

Although Pentagon reported the attack on Saturday, hours after a US drone reportedly hit the Taliban leader near the Iranian border in Balochistan, Mr Obama waited till the first working day to confirm the death. And he confirmed it twice, first in the official statement and then at a news briefing in Hanoi, Vietnam, where he is on a three-day visit.

Policy shift?

The US president disagreed with a suggestion that the first-ever drone strike in Balochistan signalled a change of policy and might lead to an increase in American military operations in the region.

“This does not represent a shift in our approach. We are not re-entering the day-to-day combat operations that are currently being conducted by Afghan security forces,” he said.

Mr Obama did not respond when asked to address Pakistan’s concern about the strike happening on its soil. Instead, he explained why it was important to eliminate Mullah Mansour.

“He is an individual who, as head of the Taliban, was specifically targeting US personnel and troops inside of Afghanistan who were there...to maintain a counterterrorism platform and provide assistance and training to the Afghan military forces there,” he said.

But Mr Obama clarified that his reluctance to involve US troops in ground operations would not prevent them from going for a high-value target.

“Where we have a high-profile leader who has been consistently part of operations and plans to potentially harm US personnel, and who has been resistant to the kind of peace talks and reconciliation that ultimately could bring an end to decades of war in Afghanistan, then it is my responsibility … not to stand by,” he said.

Important milestone

In a statement issued by the White House, President Obama said the day Mullah Mansour was killed was “an important milestone” in America’s longstanding effort to bring peace and prosperity to Afghanistan.

“With the death of Taliban leader Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, we have removed the leader of an organisation that has continued to plot against and unleash attacks on American and coalition forces, to wage war against the Afghan people, and align itself with extremist groups like Al Qaeda,” he said.

Mr Obama noted that Mullah Mansur had rejected efforts by the Afghan government to seriously engage in peace talks and end the violence that rook the lives of countless innocent Afghan men, women and children.

“The Taliban should seize the opportunity to pursue the only real path for ending this long conflict – joining the Afghan government in a reconciliation process that leads to lasting peace and stability,” he said.

President Obama thanked US military and intelligence personnel for sending “a clear message to all those who target our people and our partners – you will have no safe haven”.

Published in Dawn, May 24th, 2016