Obama says expects Taliban to continue strategy of violence under new leader

ISE-SHIMA, Japan U.S. President Barack Obama said on Thursday he expects the Taliban to continue a strategy of violence following the appointment of a hardline leader, adding that the United States aims to uphold Afghanistan’s fragile democratization and prevent its use as a base by Islamic State.

“This continues to be an organization that sees violence as a strategy for obtaining its goals and moving its agenda forward in Afghanistan,” said 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.”

“Our goal right now is to make sure (Afghanistan’s) constitution and democratic process is upheld (and) maintain the counter-terrorism platforms that we need in the region so that al Qaeda and now ISIL are not able to take root and use it as a base to attack us in the United States,” he said, using an acronym for Islamic State.

The selection of cleric Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada as the new Taliban chief on Wednesday all but dashes 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.

Akhundzada, a conservative Islamic scholar from the Taliban’s stronghold in southern Afghanistan, succeeded Mullah Akhtar Mansour four days after he was killed in a U.S. drone strike.

Some U.S. officials had expressed hope that Mansour’s death would eliminate an obstacle to peace negotiations between the Taliban and the government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

(Reporting by Thomas Wilson and Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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