The Afghan Taliban has denied the rumored death of its leader by issuing an audio message. A voice said to be that of Mullah Akhtar Mansoor says he was not present during a gunfight with rivals in Pakistan on Tuesday.
The voice in the 16-minute audio file sent to media late Saturday said there was "no truth to the rumors that I was injured or killed," adding that the reported incident "never happened."
Multiple reports earlier this week said Mansoor had been badly wounded in a shootout during a gathering at the home of another Taliban commander at Kuchlak in western Pakistan on Tuesday.
"That incident never happened, This is enemy propaganda … I haven't seen Kuchlak in years," said the voice.
It also referred to a more recent clash on Friday in Maidan Wardak province, southwest of Kabul.
The news agency AFP said it had been told by some Taliban commanders that the voice appeared to be that of Mansoor.
Skepticism over Taliban denials was fuelled in recent years by the secrecy which surrounded the death of Mansour's predecessor, Mullah Mohammad Omar.
Omar died in 2013 but his death was not confirmed until late July. He had led the Islamist movement for two decades.
Ructions among Taliban
Splits subsequently emerged among the insurgents, with some commanders saying Mansour's selection had been biased. They accused him of covering up Mullar Omar's death.
A breakaway faction was formed last month, reportedly led by Mullah Mohamed Rasool, resulting in internal clashes last month that left dozens of people dead.
It would be the first formal division in the once unified Taliban group which has pressed attacks on Afghan forces since major pullbacks by a US-led coalition which for years has backed the Kabul government.
Peace plans derailed?
A renewed regional push to jump-start peace talks between Kabul and the Taliban could be derailed should it be confirmed that Mansoor had died.
He was believed to be a proponent of such talks, a stance which prompted rancor among hardline insurgents.
ipj/jm (Reuters, AFP)