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With Mansour Dead, Taliban Must Select A New Leader

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

That attack by U.S. drones that the president says killed the Taliban leader happened in a remote area of Pakistan. Mullah Akhtar Mansour was believed riding with another man in a car which was a hit by a missile. Now, U.S. and Afghan officials are asking whether his death will be the beginning of the end of the insurgency or if the Taliban will mount evermore violent attacks. NPR's Tom Bowman reports from Afghanistan.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Mullah Mansour ran the Taliban for the past three years from his hideout in Pakistan. He had the upper hand - seizing territory, killing large numbers of Afghan troops, mounting suicide attacks in Kabul. Haroun Mir is an Afghan political analyst. He says Mullah Mansour's death can't be overstated.

HAROUN MIR: And this certainly is a game-changer because now their leadership - their commanding control is afraid that any of them could be the next target.

BOWMAN: For years, the U.S. was fighting just the low-level Taliban in battles throughout the country. Mir says that was ineffective.

MIR: Killing the rank and file of Taliban and some of their fleet commanders in Afghanistan was never tilting the balance in favor of the U.S. and Afghan forces.

BOWMAN: Whether the balance will now be tilted is uncertain. The Taliban will now meet to select a new leader. Mullah Mansour's deputy Siraj Haqqani is considered among the most brutal of the insurgent leaders.

JAWID KOHISTANI: (Through interpreter) I believe that in a short time, when possible, the Taliban will retaliate and revenge his killing.

BOWMAN: That's Jawid Kohistani, an expert on the Taliban leadership. He says Mullah Mansour was not popular and there were divisions within the insurgency.

KOHISTANI: (Through interpreter) Most of the Taliban commanders were not happy with him, and they did not obey him. And they had to fight under his leadership.

BOWMAN: Mullah Mansour opposed a peace process with the Afghan government. And Kohistani says more moderate forces could emerge, ready to lay down their arms and talk. Right now, that's more of a hope than anything else. Tom Bowman, NPR News, Kabul, Afghanistan. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.