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Taliban storm airport complex in Kandahar, southern Afghanistan

Taliban forces have stormed an airport complex in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar. The attack was the first major assault after days of speculation that Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour had been killed.

Afghan officials said on Tuesday that after storming the airport the Taliban engaged in fighting with security forces. Sameem Khpalwak, a spokesperson for the local governor, said there were no initial reports of casualties.

"Several insurgents [have] taken up position inside a school in the complex and [are] firing at the airport," Khpalwak said.

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Taliban attacks airport complex in Afghanistan

Kandahar's military spokesman Mohammad Mohsin Sultani said the exact number of attackers was unclear.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the assault shortly after, claiming that they had "attacked invading forces."

Hopes for peace talks

The attack on Tuesday came just a day before Afghan

President Ashraf Ghani was due to visit the Heart of Asia regional conference

in Pakistan, which hoped to revive peace talks with the insurgents.

Pakistan has historically supported the Afghan Taliban and holds considerable influence over the rebels. Amid signs of a renewed push to jump-start peace talks, Islamabad held a milestone primary round of meetings in July.

Talks were stalled, however, after the Taliban confirmed belatedly that their longtime leader,

Mullah Mohammed Omar, died in the Pakistani city of Karachi

in 2013.

Death rumors

Speculation grew last week that Omar's successor, Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, had been killed in a shootout in Kuchlak, western Pakistan.

An audio file was sent to media late on Saturday, however, allegedly

confirming that the Taliban leader was still alive.

The voice, purportedly that of Mansoor, said there was "no truth to the rumors that I was injured or killed," adding that the reported incident "never happened."

The renewed regional push to jump-start peace talks between Kabul and the Taliban could be derailed once again if Mansoor is confirmed as dead. He was believed to be a proponent of such talks, a stance which prompted rancor among hardline insurgents.

ksb/jil (AFP, Reuters)

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