Friday, December 4, 2015

Fate of Taliban’s new leader uncertain after conflicting reports of a shootout in Pakistan

Trouble in Taliban Paradise? 

One can only hope.

The story comes from The Long War Journal.

Fate of Taliban’s new leader uncertain after conflicting reports of a shootout in Pakistan

The Taliban is forcefully denying that its newly appointed leader, Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, was wounded or killed during a shootout at a meeting with other commanders in Pakistan. The jihadist group’s top two spokesmen described the reports as “absolutely baseless” rumors that are part of “propaganda efforts” by the “enemy intelligence apparatus.”

However, the Taliban has little credibility on such matters. In August, the organization’s senior leadership admitted that they hid the death of the Taliban’s founder and first emir, Mullah Omar, for more than two years.

Reports that Mullah Mansour was wounded and possibly killed first surfaced yesterday. According to AFP, Mansour was meeting with other Taliban commanders at the home of Abdullah Sarhadi, who was reportedly held at Guantanamo Bay and now serves in a leadership capacity within the group. The gathering reportedly took place in Kuchlak, a town just outside of Quetta in Pakistan’s Balochistan province. The Taliban’s top leadership council has been based in Quetta.

Sarhadi opened fire after “harsh words” were exchanged, an unnamed Taliban commander said. Afghan officials, including the spokesperson for the country’s first vice president, have supported the claim, saying Mansour was wounded and possibly killed.

The Taliban has aggressively refuted the reports, and even issued two official denials on Voice of Jihad, its official propaganda website. Yesterday, Taliban spokesman Qari Muhammad Yousuf Ahmadi said the reports of the shootout were “from the mouths of Kabul intelligence circles,” and noted that Sarhadi did not have a home in Kuchlak.

“We categorically reject this fabricated claim of the enemy intelligence apparatus,” Ahmadi continued. “Our credible sources state that Amir ul Mumineen [the leader of the faithful, Mullah Mansour] has no presence in the stated area and neither has a security incident occurred their [sic]. The enemy falsely claimed that the incident took place in the home of a commander named Mullah Abdullah Sarhadi, that despite the fact that his home is not even based in Kuchlak region.”

Ahmadi’s statement was followed today by another attributed to Zabihullah Mujahid, its other official spokesman. Mujahid denied reports in the Afghan press that the Taliban’s former Minister of Information and Culture, Mullah Amir Khan Muttaqqi, was in a position to confirm Mansour’s alleged injuries.

“Amir Khan Muttaqqi has not been in contact with any media outlet over the course of the past 14 years and neither are rumors about injury of Mr. Mansur Sahib true,” Muhajid concluded.

The Taliban’s denial that Mansour was involved in a firefight in Pakistan cannot be taken at face value. The Taliban’s top leaders, including Mansour, hid the death of Mullah Mohammed Omar, its founder and first emir, for more than two years until being forced to disclose his death last summer. (Some sources indicate that Omar was first incapacitated due to his ailments, before eventually passing away.)

The Taliban can quickly dispel the rumors by releasing an audio or video message from Mansour. This is not unprecedented. Unlike the reclusive Mullah Omar, who never released audio or video messages, Mansour has issued several statements in audio format since taking command of the Taliban.

The reports of the firefight at the leadership meeting emerged as a breakaway Taliban faction led by Mullah Mohammad Rasul has challenged Mansour’s leadership. Mansour’s followers attacked Rasul’s deputy in Zabul, Mullah Dadullah Mansour, last month. Mansour is reported to have been killed in the fighting, but his death has not been confirmed.

Rumors of firefights between top level Taliban commanders have emerged in the past, but have never been confirmed. The most trafficked account of a clash between supposed rival leaders occurred in 2009, after the US killed Baitullah Mehsud, the first emir of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, in a drone strike. Pakistani officials claimed that Hakeemullah Mehsud, who eventually succeeded Baitullah, and Waliur Rehman Mehsud opened fire and killed each each other during a dispute at a meeting to pick the group’s new emir. The clash never happened, and Hakeemullah and Waliur Rehman were killed in separate drone strikes years later after working closely together to fight the Pakistani government.

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