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Keep on fighting, new Taliban leader says

In the first public statement attributed to him, newly named Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor has called for a continuation of fighting in Afghanistan.

The insurgent group, ousted from power following a 2001 U.S.-led invasion, will keep battling Afghan government forces in “jihad until we bring an Islamic rule in the country,” said a voice attributed to Mansoor in a 30-minute message released online Saturday.

Mansoor, considered the closest ally to Mullah Mohammad Omar in the last years of his life, also called for unity within the Islamic Emirate, as the group refers to itself.

Divisions within the ranks, said the message, “will only please our enemies.”

Waheed Mozhdah, a former official in the Taliban government that ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, said Omar feared such divisions would occur after he died.

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On his deathbed, surrounded by his closest allies, including Mansoor, Omar instructed his aides to attend to his funeral rites but said nothing of alerting his family or others within the ranks of the movement, Mozdah said.

“He was afraid that his death would be used to divide the Taliban into separate groups. There had previously been individuals that left but none that created real publicly announced groups; he worried that the announcement of his death would create the grounds for such splits,” said Mozdah.

The call for continued fighting came two days after a meeting scheduled for Friday between Taliban representatives and Afghan officials was abruptly called off. it would have been the second such encounter in recent weeks, and had prompted hope that formal peace talks might soon be launched.

The jihad call also appeared to conflict with previous views of the new “leader of the faithful,” as Mansoor is now dubbed.

Mozhdah and other sources said Mansoor had sought to convince Omar that the Taliban should find alternate means of resistance to the government rather than fighting. He also had convinced regional neighbors that the Taliban had no aspirations beyond expelling foreign forces from within their own borders.

The message, believed to have been recorded in a residence, came as reports of objections to Mansoor’s ascendancy circulated in local and foreign media.

Meanwhile, the death of Omar, which Afghan officials said actually happened more than two years ago, continued as the subject of media speculation in Kabul.

For much of his life, the Taliban leader, whose most identifiable feature -- based on a single grainy image -- was his one missing eye, largely stayed out of the spotlight. Initial reports of his death began to surface in local media in the late-morning hours last Wednesday.

Citing Pakistani media, those initial reports said Omar was killed by two senior-level figures within the movement itself.

According to a Taliban splinter group, the Islamic Movement Fidai Mahaz, Omar was poisoned by commanders and later buried in the southern province of Zabul.

Most notably, the group’s spokesman, Qari Hamza, said Mansoor was among those involved in the murder.

After hours of silence, the death was confirmed by the Afghan National Directorate of Security, the nation’s intelligence agency, and eventually, the presidential palace.

Initially, the Taliban themselves brushed off the reports of Omar’s death.

But a day later, they conceded he had died, but offered a different narrative. “The leader of the faithful Mullah Mohammad Omar Mujahid has passed away due to his illness …. [He] was living in Afghanistan beside the pressure of the global infidel invasion and bounty on his head. He hasn’t gone to Pakistan or anywhere else outside the country,” the statement read in reference to a $10-million reward issued by the FBI for information on his whereabouts.

The group went on to call for three days mourning in areas under its control.

Latifi is a special correspondent.

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