The Taliban released an audio statement attributed to Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, who denied reports of his death. Afghan officials and other sources recently claimed that Mansour, who succeeded Mullah Omar as the Taliban’s top leader in late July, had been killed in a shootout during a meeting with his commanders in southwestern Pakistan. But Mansour says this story was floated by the jihadists’ enemies to divide his group.
“I am among my people,” Mansour claimed. “This incident never happened and it is not true. This is propaganda of the enemy.” The 16-minute message was released earlier today, Reuters reported.
A US intelligence official who tracks the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan told The Long War Journal that the voice recording attributed to Mansour appears to be authentic. Mansour has released several other audio messages in the past.
The Taliban subsequently published a summary and partial transcript of Mansour’s denial on its official website, Voice of Jihad. “Muslims should be confident and realize that this media war is not new, such claims will be repeatedly circulated, take assurance in the publications/words of the spokesmen of Islamic Emirate,” Mansour argued. “Rest assured that even if I dont reject such claims myself next time, this doesnt mean something has happened.”
Mansour’s statement was issued just three days after senior Afghan officials and purported Taliban leaders claimed he was killed or wounded on Dec. 2. According to their version of the story, Mansour and other commanders were meeting at the home of Abdullah Sarhadi, the deputy shadow governor for Wardak province in Afghanistan, when a confrontation turned violent. The meeting was said to have taken 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.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Muhajid stated earlier this morning on Twitter that a message from Mansour was forthcoming.
The Taliban was adamant from the beginning that the reports of Mansour’s demise were false. The Afghan jihadist group issued two official statements on Voice of Jihad on Dec. 2 and Dec. 3. The messages were attributed to Muhajid and Qari Muhammad Yousuf Ahmadi, another official spokesman. The statements made by the Taliban’s representatives are similar to Mansour’s speech. [See LWJ report, Fate of Taliban’s new leader uncertain after conflicting reports of a shootout in Pakistan.]
Ahmadi said on Dec. 2 that the reports are part of a “fabricated claim of the enemy intelligence apparatus.” Ahmadi claimed no clash had taken place. He also said that Sarhadi did not have a home in Kuchlak.
On Dec. 3, Mujahid said the Taliban’s former minister of information and culture, Mullah Amir Khan Muttaqqi, was not in a position to know if Mansour died at the hands of his supposed rivals. Afghan news outlets relied on Muttaqqi as a key source to confirm allegations regarding the Taliban’s infighting and Mansour’s fate.
The Taliban also issued a statement attributed to Sarhadi, who reportedly denied that Mansour and his alleged foes had even fought.
The Taliban’s initial denial could not be taken at face value, however, because the jihadists hid the death of Mullah Mohammed Omar for more than two years. Senior jihadist figures, including Mansour, were eventually forced to admit that Omar, the Taliban’s founder and first emir, passed away in April 2013. The Taliban released multiple official statements attributed to Omar while he was dead.
The Taliban was likely under pressure to release Mansour’s statement, as the coverup of Omar’s death has caused dissension within the organization. A faction of Taliban commanders, lead by Mullah Mohammad Rasul, has challenged Mansour’s leadership. The two groups have clashed in Afghanistan’s Zabul province over the past month.