Days after the U.S. airstrike and death of Taliban leader Mullah Mansour, the terrorist group announced a new leader Wednesday.
Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada has been the group’s lesser-known deputy member and served as a former judicial leader for Afghanistan’s Taliban government. The announcement is the group’s first public confirmation that a U.S. airstrike killed Mullah Mansour in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province Saturday.
Well-respected by Taliban commanders as an elder and cleric of the group, Mawlawi Haibatullah led the group through the selection process amidst a growing discord.
Mawlawi Haibatullah’s main rivals included Sirajuddin Haqqani, the insurgency operations leader, and Mullah Muhammad Yaqoub, the young son of the Taliban founder, Mullah Muhammad Omar, according to a statement from the Taliban’s core leadership council in Quetta, Pakistan, The New York Times reported.
The selection of Mawlawi Haibatullah is viewed by the Taliban as a way to unite the fracturing movement, regardless of his lack of military experience.
“One of the reasons that the Taliban chose Haibatullah as leader is that as a religious scholar, he can reunite different factions of the Taliban and prevent disintegration,” Habibullah Fawzik, a former Taliban diplomat told The New York Times.
But spokesman for the breakaway faction, Mullah Abdul Manan Niazi, told The New York Times Wednesday, “Haibatullah is not the right choice for us. He has been selected quite similarly to Mansour with no consensus of all mujahedeen — it will never be acceptable to us.”
It is unclear what effect the strike had on the breakaway faction.