Afghan officials are trying to learn the fate of Afghan Taliban leader Mansoor after he was seriously wounded in a gunfight involving other senior figures. The shootout reveals deep divisions within the movement.
Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor was shot and seriously wounded in a firefight that broke out after a dispute erupted with other senior figures at a meeting in the Afghan-Pakistan border region, Afghan, Pakistani and Taliban sources confirmed.
The shootout puts the future of peace talks with the Afghan government in question as a murky intra-Taliban power struggle plays out following the announcement this summer that the group's reclusive founder, Mullah Omar, had died two years earlier.
Mansoor assumed control of the militant Sunni Islamist group in August, but his leadership has been challenged by other factions, which has led to frequent clashes.
Dead or alive?
Details of the Tuesday night shootout remain unclear and Afghan officials are trying to learn whether Mansoor may have been killed.
"We are trying to establish whether Mansoor is dead or alive," Sultan Faizi, the spokesman for the Afghan first vice president, told AFP news agency.
One Taliban source told Germany's DPA news agency and Reuters that Mansoor was seriously wounded and six other Taliban figures including the leader's bodyguard were killed.
The Taliban source said Mansoor was hit four times by bullets from an AK-47 and was being treated in a hospital.
But Taliban's spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid denied any shootout had occurred or that a meeting had even taken place.
Two Taliban commanders, however, told AP that a verbal argument broke out between Mansoor and senior commander Mullah Abdullah Sarhadi, when the two were meeting to discuss strategy at Sarhadi's home. The account was confirmed by Faizi and a Pakistani intelligence source.
Sarhadi, a former Guantanamo Bay detainee, died in the shootout. Dozens were also wounded.
It is unclear where the shooting took place, with some sources saying it happened outside Quetta in western Pakistan and others in the Taliban heartland near Kandahar in Afghanistan.
The shooting reveals deep divisions and a power struggle within the Taliban after Mansoor assumed leadership.
Frequent clashes between Mansoor's faction and another tied to Mullah Mohammad Rasool Akhund have divided the group at a time when the "Islamic State" is making inroads into Afghanistan.
Rasool's hardline faction is believed to be close to the "Islamic State."
The Afghan government and Taliban confirmed this week that a deputy to Rasool, Mullah Dadullah, a hardliner and rival to Mansoor, was killed in clashes with forces loyal to Mansoor last month.
Mansoor is believed to be under pressure by Pakistan's ISI intelligence service to restart peace talks with the Afghan government, which has further inflamed divisions within the movement between pragmatists and hardline militants.
Mansoor boosted is standing among Afghan and Pakistan-based Taliban militants following the temporary capture of the northern city of Kunduz in September.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has said he is open to peace talks with the Taliban. However, he has said talks are complicated by divisions within the Taliban following the announcement of Mullah's Omar's death.
cw/sms (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)