- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 26, 2016

The new Taliban regime will not result in any change to the militant group’s violent efforts to undermine any peaceful resolution to the war in Afghanistan, President Obama said Thursday.

“This continues to be an organization that sees violence as a strategy for obtaining its goals and moving its agenda forward in Afghanistan,” Mr. Obama told reporters during a Group of Seven summit at Ise-Shima in central Japan.

“In the short term, we anticipate that the Taliban will continue to pursue an agenda of violence and blowing up innocent people,” he added.

The president’s comments came as the Pentagon issued an new ultimatum to the Afghan terror group: come to the negotiation table or face certain defeat on the battlefield.

“The choice is up to [the new] leadership right now whether they want to do the responsible thing, which is be part of Afghanistan’s future and sit down at the peace table, or whether they want to continue to suffer defeats on the battlefield — because those are the two options right now for the Taliban,” Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said Thursday during an interview on CNN’s New Day.

On Wednesday, the Afghan militant group named little-known cleric Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada as their new leader.

Akhundzada’s selection as the new Taliban chieftain came after extensive deliberations among the organization’s top leaders, who were forced to pick a new leader after former chief Mullah Mohammed Akhtar Mansour and another top Taliban commander were killed in a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province.

Sirajuddin Haqqani, head of the feared militant network that bears his name, and Mullah Mohammad Yaqub, the son of Taliban founder Mullah Mohammed Omar, were rumored to be the favorites to lead the militant group after Mansour’s death.

Several senior Taliban leaders broke from the group last summer over Mansour’s selection as the group’s leader.

Mullah Mohammad Rasool, who leads the largest faction of former Taliban members, voiced his opposition to Akhundzada’s leadership, deriding the group’s decision to pick their new leader without consulting rank-and-file commanders in the field, The Associated Press reported.

Eliminating Mansour, an implacable opponent of the four-nation meetings with Pakistan, China and the U.S., was seen by many in Kabul and Washington as one of the last barriers to bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table.

Akhundzada is reportedly more in line with Mansour’s opposition to any negotiations to end the 14-year war in Afghanistan.

Sirajuddin Haqqani, head of the feared militant network that bears his name, and Mullah Mohammad Yaqub, the son of Taliban founder Mullah Mohammed Omar, were rumored to be the favorites to lead the militant group after Mansour’s death.

But a Haqqani-led Taliban stoked fears in Washington and Kabul that the al Qaeda-affiliated Pakistani terrorist group known for its highly coordinated and vicious attacks inside Afghanistan, would remold the Afghan insurgency in its own more violent and hard-line image.

But regardless of who holds the top spot within the Taliban, the group has no choice but to negotiate for peace, Mr. Cook said.

“Regardless of the leadership, the choice right now for the Taliban is to be part of Afghanistan’s future … right now the roadmap for the Taliban — those two choices are out there. Sit down at the peace table or, again, be prepared to suffer defeat.”

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