A dissident Afghan Taliban group has announced its own leader, revealing the fractures in the militant group that emerged since the death of its founder Mullah Omar.
Under a cold grey sky in Farah, west Afghanistan, Taliban veteran Mullah Mohammad Rasool, 50, addressed dozens of fighters as the splinter group’s leader, seen on video footage released this week.
The new faction reportedly includes a number of senior Taliban commanders opposed to the Taliban’s new leader, Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansoor.
It is the first official split in the once-unified Taliban, making the announcement “significant symbolically, politically, and historically for the movement”. according to Borhan Osman, an analyst with the Afghanistan Analysts Network.
The new group has raised concerns that prospects for a negotiated peace between the Afghan government and the Taliban continues to fade. The already delicate process would be further complicated if more groups were to emerge.
Rasool’s group likely only boasts a few hundred fighters and will unlikely alone derail peace talks. However, the group could “signal a beginning for more splits in the Taliban. That would prove a rather worrying trend”, said Mr Osman.
Ashraf Ghani, Afghan president, had made small inroads to end years of bloodshed, initiating breakthrough peace talks earlier in the year with Taliban representatives.
That progress stalled in July, when the Taliban finally conceded Omar died two years ago, sending shockwaves through the insurgent group.
Edicts and messages from Omar had likely been ghost-written by hisdeputy Mansoor, duping even senior Taliban commanders.
Mansoor was quickly named the new leader in a meeting where other senior Taliban members reportedly walked out in disgust, convinced Mansoor was making a grab for power without proper consultation.
Mansoor had since largely consolidated his leadership, winning back the support of most of the senior leaders, including Omar’s family.
The Taliban also unleashed multiple military operations across Afghanistan in past months, resulting in some unprecedented victories.
That has included the capture of the major city of Kunduz, and several major districts across the country, including Musa Qala in Helmand, where more than 20 British soldiers died in operations against the Taliban in 2006.