Kabul, Reuters/AP—In his first public message released on Saturday Afghanistan’s new Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour appealed for unity amid reports his predecessor’s family members opposed his selection.
“The enemy can’t defeat us if we show unity,” he said in an audio recording that lasted for thirty minutes, which Taliban members provided to journalists. “I will utilize all my energies to follow our late Mullah Mohammed Omar and his mission,” he said. “We need to be patient and should try to go to those friends who are unhappy. We will have to convince them and take them on board.”
Mansour, was deputy for several years to the elusive former leader Mullah Omar, who served as a unifying figure and a spiritual guide for the insurgency despite his absence.
This week the Taliban confirmed Omar had been dead for some time. The Afghan government said he had died more than two years ago.
Mansour’s selection could be a promising development for peace talks, analysts say, if he can persuade other factions of the fractious insurgency to support him.
Mullah Abdul Manan, the brother of the late Mullah Omar, claimed the new Taliban leader was “selected” by a small clique of his own supporters. That comes after Mullah Omar’s son, Yacoub, also warned Mansour didn’t have the support of the wider Taliban.
With both men demanding a new vote, that could throw the leadership of the Taliban into greater disarray as it weighs whether to resume fledgling peace talks with the Afghan government or continue its bloody, almost-14-year insurgency.
“I stand with my nephew,” Manan said. “There should be a grand council so everyone has a chance to choose their own leader. I do not accept this selection of Mullah Akhtar Mansour because only a few chose him.”
On Sunday, the Taliban issued a written statement purportedly quoting Jalaluddin Haqqani, the leader of the notoriously brutal Haqqani insurgent group, in an effort to quell rumors about his death and further support Mansour.
The statement, posted to the Taliban’s website, quoted Haqqani mourning the loss of Mullah Omar. It said Haqqani backed Mansour as the Taliban’s leader.
“My particular recommendation to all members of the Islamic Emirate is to maintain their internal unity and discipline,” the statement quotes Haqqani as saying, using the Taliban’s name for Afghanistan. The statement added Haqqani said followers should not be deceived by enemy propaganda.
Haqqani is the leader of the Haqqani Network, a terrorist group based in Pakistan’s lawless tribal areas that is believed to have conducted many bloody attacks inside Afghanistan. While it rarely claims responsibility for its attacks, they are usually identifiable by their use of complex tactics, like a large number of assailants including suicide bombers. Haqqani’s son was named as a deputy of Mansour in earlier Taliban statements.
Rumors of Haqqani’s death have circulated and been denied by militants for the past year.
If Mansour fails to appease Taliban fighters and field commanders on the ground, the ultimate beneficiary could be the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group. The rival extremist group, which already controls about a third of Syria and Iraq with affiliates in Egypt and Libya, has established a small foothold in Afghanistan and is actively recruiting disillusioned Taliban fighters.
Meanwhile, as Taliban representatives have attended peace talks with Afghan government officials, the extremists have intensified their attacks on local security forces after NATO and US troops ended their combat mission at the end of last year.