Kabul: A gun battle between Taliban militants has left four members dead and critically wounded its Afghan leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, according to sources.
The firefight is said to have erupted spontaneously at a meeting between Taliban commanders near the Pakistani city of Quetta according to an unnamed Pakistani intelligence official, though a Taliban spokesperson said the claims were “absolutely baseless”.
If confirmed, the battle exposes deepening divisions within the fractious militant movement, which saw its first formal split last month after a breakaway faction led by Mullah Mohamed Rasool surfaced – the first formal split in the once-unified group.
But the insurgency has shown no signs of weakening despite the divisions. It briefly captured the strategic northern city of Kunduz in September in its most spectacular victory in 14 years and opened new battlefronts across the country.
“We are trying to establish whether Mansoor is dead or alive,” said Afghanistan spokesman Sultan Faizi. “His situation is critical,” Faizi added, citing unnamed source.
Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansoor took over as the head of the Afghan Taliban in July after the death of his predecessor Mullah Omar, who led the movement for almost 20 years but had not been seen in public since the 2001 US-led invasion of Afghanistan.
Born in the 1960s in Kandahar province to the Ishaqzai tribe, Mansoor grew up in the Maiwand district close to Mullah Omar’s home.
He is known to have been one of the founders of the Taliban movement and he went on to become the governor of Kandahar before taking the position of the regime’s Aviation Minister.
Responding to Taliban denials of a gun battle taking place, a Western official in the Afghan capital Kabul said the movement may come under pressure to provide ‘proof-of-life’ of their leader.
“The reports are still sketchy, but the sheer volume of rumours suggesting that something has happened to Mansour will pressure the Taliban to offer proof that he’s alive,” the official told the AFP news agency.
“Simply posting denials on their website won’t be considered credible enough, especially after Mullah Omar’s death was concealed for years.”
Source: Sky NEWS