The selection of a hard-line cleric as the new Taliban chief on Wednesday all but dashes U.S. President Barack Obama’s hopes for opening peace talks before he leaves office, one of his top foreign policy goals, current and former U.S. defense and intelligence officials said.
The Taliban leadership council tapped Mullah Haybattulah Akhundzada, a conservative Islamic scholar from the group’s stronghold in southern Afghanistan, to succeed Mullah Akhtar Mansour, four days after Mansour was killed in a U.S. drone strike.
U.S. officials had called Mansour a major impediment to peace talks, and some had expressed hope his death would eliminate an obstacle to peace negotiations between the Taliban and the government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
Instead, some experts said, Akhundzada is likely to pursue aggressive attacks throughout the summer, intensifying the pressure on Obama to reconsider his plan to withdraw U.S. military trainers and special forces and leave the decision on how to end America’s longest war to his successor.
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