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Intense clashes erupt between rival Taliban groups

Dozens of Taliban fighters were killed in a battle between the insurgents loyal to Taliban chief Mullah Mansoor and a splinter group. The breakaway faction is supported by "Islamic State" militants, officials say.

The splinter group is loyal to the veteran Taliban official Mohammad Rasool, Afghan authorities said Sunday.

The clashes in southern Afghanistan killed about 60 of Rasool's followers and 20 militants associated with Mansoor during the weekend, according to the deputy police chief of Zabul province, Ghulam Jilani Farahi.

The opponents of the

widely recognized Taliban head Mullah Akhtar Mansoor

elected Rasool "supreme leader" earlier this week.

Among the dead militants who were fighting for the breakaway group are "foreign fighters from Uzbekistan," Farahi said, adding that another 30 people were wounded.

The battle in Zabul is the first instance of rivalry between Taliban leaders bursting into the open.

Rebellion backed by IS

The "Islamic State" (IS) is supporting Rasool's forces, according to Mohmand Nostrayar, governor of one of the districts where fighting was taking place.

A Taliban commander loyal to the central leadership gave similar a account to the AP news agency.

"It is obvious that Mullah Rasool's group can't face Akhtar Mansoor alone so they need IS. We said that before and now it has been proven," he said.

IS and the Taliban are on hostile terms, despite the fact that both organizations are dominated by Sunni extremists. Lately, IS has been

building up its presence

in Afghanistan and recruiting disenchanted Taliban members.

Also on Sunday, Afghan police found decapitated bodies of seven members of the Hazara minority who were kidnapped in October.

"Daesh fighters brutally killed these people, and their dead bodies have been carried to Shah Joi district hospital," Zabul police official Farahi told Reuters by telephone, using an alternative name for the IS.

dj/rc (Reuters, AFP, AP)

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