Mullah Mansour Drone Strike: Important Milestone or Radicalizing Event?

How much more ironic could it be? More than 43 years after the last Americans evacuated Vietnam, ending our disastrous occupation there, the dateline reads Hanoi on President Barack Obama’s statement today on the US drone strike that killed Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour. Mansour was the head of Afghanistan’s Taliban but was in Pakistan at the time the US killed him with a drone, striking a similarity to the US “secret” bombing of Cambodia during the Vietnam war.

From today’s New York Times, we have parts of Obama’s statement:

Calling the death “an important milestone,” President Obama said in a statement, released just as he was meeting with top officials in Vietnam, that the United States had “removed the leader of an organization that has continued to plot against and unleash attacks on American and coalition forces.”

“Mansour rejected efforts by the Afghan government to seriously engage in peace talks and end the violence that has taken the lives of countless innocent Afghan men, women and children,” Mr. Obama continued in the statement. “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.”

So Obama is saying that the Taliban should respond to our extrajudicial killing of their leader by reconciling with the Afghan government (chosen in large part by John Kerry) and working toward peace. What are the odds of that happening? Max Abrahms has some very important points to make on that topic:

Dr Max Abrahms, from Northeastern University in Boston, said the US Government does not look carefully enough at the strategic implications of its strikes on extremist leaders.

He said he had done a number of studies on leadership decapitation of a militant group and he had not found a statistically significant reduction in the amount of violence perpetrated by the group after a leader was removed.

“In fact these decapitation strikes can actually be counter-productive, because one of the assumptions of the targeted killing campaigns is that the replacement of the leader that you killed will be more moderate,” Dr Abrahms said.

“And yet I find just the opposite to be true. The replacement is even more extreme.

“So for that reason, in the immediate aftermath of a successful targeted killing, like over this weekend, the group’s violence tends to become even more extreme, in the sense that it’s even more likely to attack civilian targets.”

And so our circle of irony is complete. Obama’s statement on the killing of Mansour, released from Vietnam, shows that US military misadventures still rely on faulty logic when major moves are made. A strike made to make the Taliban more peaceful seems virtually certain to result in more indiscriminate killing of civilians.

Because I know how much Marcy enjoys miraculous “left behind” documents, I couldn’t resist following up on a Twitter reference I saw flit by yesterday about how a passport for Mansour somehow survived the conflagration in the taxi in which Mansour met his death by drone. By following it, though, I found even more deep irony in the drone strike. This article by ToloNews carries a photograph of a pristine-looking passport. Compare that with the photo in the New York Times article linked above with the burned out wreckage of the vehicle Mansour was said to have been in when hit. How could the passport have survived?

But wait, there’s more! ToloNews tells us that the passport has Mansour’s name and carries a valid Iranian visa. Furthermore:

Meanwhile, a number of analysts said the Taliban in recent months tried to extend relationships with Iran and Russia to fight Daesh and that there is a possibility that Mansour traveled to Iran to escape ISI and talk with Iranian officials.

“Iran is afraid of Daesh presence in Afghanistan, because Daesh is an enemy to Iranian clerics; therefore, Iran wants to eliminate Daesh with the help of the Taliban. Previously, Taliban had strong affiliation to Saudi Arabia, but now there is a rift between Iran and Saudi Arabia and Iran wants to expand its influence on the group [Taliban],” political analyst Shafiq Hamdam said.

So while Mansour and his group have continued to reject peace talks with the Afghan government, at least some observers believe that he was in the process of trying to join the fight against Islamic State. And it may well be that he died because of that effort. Here’s a map of the region, showing that the site of the drone attack, Ahmad Wal, lies about 100 miles away from Quetta (where the Afghan Taliban has long been believed to be headquartered) along the highway that is the most direct route to Iran from Quetta.

Google map of the region surrounding Ahmed Wal, where Mullah Monsour was killed.

Google map of the region surrounding Ahmed Wal, where Mullah Monsour was killed.

Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.

11 replies
  1. thingscomeundone says:

    “Dr Max Abrahms, from Northeastern University in Boston, said the US Government does not look carefully enough at the strategic implications of its strikes on extremist leaders.”

    I must disagree all those Washington Diplomats know Tit for Tat theory

    “Tit for two tats is similar to tit for tat in that it is nice, retaliating, forgiving and non-envious, the only difference between the two being how forgiving the strategy is. In a tit for tat strategy, once an opponent defects, the tit for tat player immediately responds by defecting on the next move. This has the unfortunate consequence of causing two retaliatory strategies to continuously defect against one another resulting in a poor outcome for both players. A tit for two tats player will let the first defection go unchallenged as a means to avoid the “death spiral” of the previous example. If the opponent defects twice in a row, the tit for two tats player will respond by defecting.”

    Now then if you want a death spiral/fight Obama’s actions killing Mullah Mansour make perfect sense.

  2. thingscomeundone says:

    ” This article by ToloNews carries a photograph of a pristine-looking passport. Compare that with the photo in the New York Times article linked above with the burned out wreckage of the vehicle Mansour was said to have been in when hit. How could the passport have survived?”

    Just how many times has America claimed with *Cough* proof that some terror leader was dead? How any times did the terror leader turn up alive again? Even if you are for the war you must be against this false propaganda the terrorists certainly know if their leader is dead. The Average American never heard of these guys until they make the news and forget their names a week later. So where is the propaganda value a lie makes US look incompentent and or a liar to Afghans, a forgotten victory on the other hand does not mobile support in America. Is the Pentagon trying to demoralize the American public’s support for the war?

  3. SpaceLifeForm says:

    The only thing that you may be able to conclude at
    this time is that maybe a taxi was destroyed. Maybe.

  4. GKJames says:

    (1) Officialdom, especially that which runs the American version of empire, is immune to irony. (2) When Dr. Abrahms refers to the “strategic implications” at which the USG does not look “carefully enough,” he means to say, I suspect, that Washington has no strategy at all. Heading toward the end of Year 15 in the grand adventure, Washington has offed a parade of “senior commanders,” “important leaders,” and countless No. 2s and 3s, each identified on the incomprehensible (to anyone normal) PowerPoint slides that make the rounds in countless DC Wankfests. Assassinating people is only a strategy if repeatedly stoking the aggrieved is intentional.

  5. Ed Walker says:

    So Mansour saw the bomb coming and threw his passport out the window? So Mansour was reading his passport and the wind blew it out the window just before the bomb hit? So the taxi driver stole the passport and jumped out of the car just before the bomb hit, and then threw it back? So Mansour left the passport on the roof of the cab and the bomb blew it away from the vehicle?

    • Evangelista says:

      So Mansour’s phone fell out of his pocket as he doubled up to swing his legs out of the taxi in Quetta. The taxi-driver headed back to Iran, picking up short-drive fares going along, one of whom found Mansour’s phone and turned it on (or the taxi-driver did), since neither knew how long it might have been there or who dropped it. They expected that the owner would call it to locate it. When Mansour learnt his phone was missing he might have worried, but what to do? And then he heard he was killed by the ‘mer’can assassins. “Well,” said Mansour philosophically, “That will raise the local anger level, bring in new recruits and make travelling a hell of a lot easier, almost risk-free, for me. Allah be merciful to the innocents the mad ‘mer’cans killed and damn me if I ever thank them for all the good their stupidities are doing for our cause.”

  6. Evangelista says:

    Ooops, I forgot “And then he mailed his passport…”, which was to go on the end of the previous post.

    • martin says:

      “And then he mailed his passport…”

      Hahahaha…. perfect.

      Meanwhile the Dumbest Fucking Country on the Planet cheers..USA! USA! USA!.. and then returns their attention to tonight’s episode’s of the Bachelor and Keeping up with the Kardashians.

  7. bevin says:

    I think that the US is becoming increasingly careless of its relations with Pakistan- the temptation of throwing itself into an alliance with the openly racist Hindu-fascist Modi government being overwhelming. Particularly as Modi is very much inclined to ally India with Israel in an anti-islamic alliance.
    Pakistan’s rulers are very much influenced by Saudi money and theology so this may be another indication of weakening links with the wahhabi kleptocracy.

    One way or another the Raj on the Potomac cannot quite make up its mind which it wants more, to go to war with China or to slip straight into its own grave.,

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