Taliban Commanders to Choose Rival Leader

Taliban Commanders to Choose Rival LeaderTaliban Commanders to Choose Rival Leader

Weeks after the Afghan Taliban’s biggest battlefield success since 2001, dissident commanders unhappy with their new leader Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour are meeting to choose a rival, they announced on Tuesday.

Analysts say the recent brief occupation of the northern city of Kunduz has cemented Mansour’s power, boosting his reputation among foot soldiers and causing the US government and NATO to slow plans for withdrawing their troops, Reuters reported.

But in the opaque maneuvering around the Taliban leadership, it is unclear whether the anti-Mansour faction will seek to challenge him on the battlefield, how many fighters they control or how much money they have.

A leadership battle within the Taliban could create space for militants loyal to Islamic State to expand their foothold in the region and could discourage Mansour from resuming Pakistan-backed peace talks with the Afghan government.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is pushing for a negotiated settlement to the 14-year insurgency, which has escalated markedly since tens of thousands of NATO combat troops withdrew ahead of an end-2014 deadline.

The two sides held inaugural talks in Pakistan in July, but many commanders, including prominent dissident Mullah Abdul Qayum Zakir, opposed the process. It has since stalled.

Mullah Abdul Manan Niazi, a spokesman for the anti-Mansour faction, said a new leader would be chosen within days.

“There is one agenda and that’s to choose the new emir (leader) unanimously and get rid of Mullah Mansour,” he said.