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Taliban confirms death of Mullah Omar, names new leader

Mullah Omar, who died in 2013, had not been seen in public since 2001
Mullah Omar, who died in 2013, had not been seen in public since 2001

The Taliban confirmed Afghan government reports of the death of its supreme leader, Mullah Omar, on Thursday and said they had named Omar's deputy, Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, to replace him.

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Mansour was appointed the group's new leader at a meeting of the Taliban’s top representatives, many of whom are based in the Pakistani city of Quetta, according to sources present at the gathering, known as a shura.

“The shura held outside Quetta unanimously elected Mullah Mansour as the new emir of the Taliban,” said one commander who attended the Wednesday night meeting.

Siraj Haqqani, leader of the powerful Haqqani militant network, will serve as Mansour's deputy, two militant commanders confirmed.

Mansour will be only the second leader the Taliban has had since Omar, a one-eyed, elusive figure who founded the ultra-conservative Islamist movement in the 1990s. He was last seen in public in 2001.

The Taliban eventually conquered most of Afghanistan, imposing strict Islamic law before being driven from power in 2001 by a US-led military intervention.

The Afghan government said on Wednesday that Omar died of an illness more than two years ago in the Pakistani city of Karachi.

Taliban divided, but fighting goes on

The announcement threw into disarray a fledgling peace process fostered by neighbouring Paksitan aimed at ending more than 13 years of war between the hardline Islamist Taliban and the Western-backed Afghan government in Kabul.

Later in the day, the Pakistani foreign office said a planned second round of meetings set for Friday would be delayed at the request of the Taliban leadership. The two sides held inaugural talks in Pakistan earlier this month.

“Pakistan and other friendly countries of Afghanistan hope that the Taliban leadership will stay engaged in the process of peace talks in order to promote a lasting peace in Afghanistan,” the foreign ministry statement said.

Mansour’s appointment is unlikely to please everyone in the Taliban. Key field commanders have criticised the peace process and vowed to fight for power, rather than negotiate it.

Several have left the movement altogether, pledging allegiance to Islamic State group in the Middle East and targeting the Taliban itself.

In a reminder of the threat posed by insurgents who have been stepping up their campaign to overthrow the Afghan government, the Taliban this week captured a district in the southern province of Helmand that foreign troops had struggled to secure for years.

District officials said the Taliban had wrested control of the Now Zad district on Wednesday after two days of fighting.

Residents of the area, speaking to Reuters by telephone, said bodies of security personnel and Taliban fighters were lying in the streets after the battle.

The Taliban has taken control of pockets of territory across the country since NATO withdrew most of its forces at the end of 2014, leaving the Afghan army and police to quell the violence. Thousands of people are killed each year.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

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