Deadly Taliban infighting erupts in Afghanistan
At least 50 dead in violent clashes in country’s south as group split over appointment of new leader stokes tension.
Violent clashes between two rival Taliban groups in southern Afghanistan have resulted in the death of at least 50 fighters from both sides, a police chief told Al Jazeera.
On Sunday, Mirwais Noorzai said fighters led by the newly appointed leader Mullah Mohammad Rasool clashed with those loyal to Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor in Zabul province.
“Civilians have left the area due to heavy clashes between the two groups,” he said.
“The fight took place in the Arghandab district of Zabul province. Most of the area is under the Taliban control. We’ve been asking for military assistance for very long now.”
Anwar Ishaqzai, governor of southern Zabul province, said the Taliban splinter group – known as the High Council of Afghanistan Islamic Emirate – has joined up with fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) group.
“The Taliban faction under Mullah Rasool was backed by the ISIL and Uzbek fighters in the fight,” he said.
“About 40 Taliban from Rasool’s group and 10 from Mansoor’s have been killed in the fight.”
ISIL claim denied
However, Abdul Manan Niazi, spokesperson for the breakaway faction, denied the ISIL association.
“We will never join them. Their ideologies are different; they come from a different background and a different history,” he told Al Jazeera.
“These are all false accusations. We can never ask for their support to fight our enemies or to re-establish Islamic rule.”
ISIL, which controls large swaths of Iraq and Syria, started building a presence in Zabul earlier this year.
Mullah Mansoor’s followers initiated the fight, Niazi accused.
“Since the announcement of our new leader, we’ve been highlighting that we are not in favour of fighting with each other,” he said. “This fight was initiated by them.”
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a Taliban commander led by Mullah Mansoor in Zabul province told Al Jazeera that his side would continue to fight those who are against their “supreme” leader.
“Anyone who does not acknowledge Mullah Mansoor is our enemy,” he said.
“The faction group is formed by foreigners and our enemies; this won’t stop us. Nothing can stop us from continuing our jihad.”
The split into two groups followed the appointment of the main new leader, Mullah Mansoor.
The Taliban Supreme Council, or Shura Council, said it had not been consulted, and, late last week, the breakaway group elected its own leader, Mullah Mohammad Rasool Akhund.
The rift has raised speculation over the group’s unity and future.
Peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government were postponed after the announcement of Taliban leader Mullah Omar’s death earlier this year .
However, according to Tolonews, an Afghan news channel, Niazi said on Sunday that the group is ready for peace talks if foreign forces leave Afghanistan.
Last month, United States President Barack Obama announced that the US would extend its military role in the country and keep the current force of 9,800 troops through most of 2016, amid a surge in Taliban attacks.
Under the new plan, the number of US troops would fall to 5,500, starting in 2017.