Senior Afghan Taliban figures met on Monday to agree on a successor to Mullah Akhtar Mansour, the leader of the militant movement who U.S. President Barack Obama confirmed had been killed in an American air strike at the weekend.
The Taliban have so far made no official statement on the fate of Mansour, who assumed the leadership only last year.
But senior members have confirmed that their main shura, or leadership council, has been meeting to discuss the succession in a bid to prevent factional splits from fragmenting the movement.
Obama, on a three-day visit to Vietnam, reiterated support for the Western-backed government in Kabul and Afghan security forces, and called on the Taliban to join stalled peace talks.
The president authorized the drone strike that killed Mansour in a remote region just on the Pakistani side of the border with Afghanistan on Saturday.
Pakistani authorities have said the drone strike was a violation of the country’s sovereignty and an official from the foreign ministry told the U.S. ambassador in Islamabad that the attack could “adversely impact” peace talks.
But reaction from Islamabad has otherwise been relatively muted and a number of questions remain over what exactly happened.
An undamaged Pakistani passport in the name of Wali Muhammad, which Pakistani authorities said contained a visa for Iran, was recovered next to the burned-out car at the scene of the attack and is believed to have belonged to Mansour.
But it is unclear what he may have been doing in Iran and why he was apparently travelling in Pakistan without a security detail.
A spokesman for the Iranian foreign ministry was quoted on state media denying that such an individual had crossed the border from Iran to Pakistan at the time in question.
Calling the death “an important milestone”, Obama said Mansour had rejected peace talks and had “continued to plot against and unleash attacks on American and Coalition forces”.
“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.
However, he stressed that the operation against Mansour did not represent a shift in U.S. strategy in Afghanistan or a return to active engagement in fighting, following the end of the international coalition’s main combat mission in 2014.