Senior Taliban cast doubt over claims Mansour is alive
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Several senior sources within the Taliban on Sunday cast doubt on the authenticity of an audio message purporting to prove Mullah Akhtar Mansour was alive, highlighting mistrust within the ranks following the cover-up of Mullah Omar's death.
The insurgent group released the 16-minute file late Saturday following reports citing multiple intelligence and militant sources claiming the Taliban chief was killed in a firefight on Tuesday inside Pakistan.
But doubts continued to linger among the group's senior ranks, who are distrustful of their leadership following a two-year cover-up of the death of the Taliban's founder and first leader Mullah Omar.
Mawlawi Hanifi, a commander based in southern Helmand province, told AFP: "I listened to the clip and it looks fake.
"I think his voice has been mimicked. Mansour himself fooled us for two years, how can we trust this now?"
Another senior Taliban source said that the group is buying time to select a new leader and bring their organisation out of "this sudden shock".
"We need more proof," he concluded.
Two other Taliban senior officials expressed similar concerns, with the latter insisting that Mansour succumbed to his injuries on Thursday.
In the message, a man purporting to be Mansour said: "I have recorded this message to let everyone know that I am alive."
"I didn't have a fight with anyone, no meeting was held and I have not been to Kuchlak (near Quetta in Pakistan) in years. This is all enemy propaganda," the message added.
The man also offered his condolences to the relatives of civilians killed in central Wardak province where a firefight erupted between government forces and the Taliban on Friday.
But two other Taliban officials based in Pakistan's Quetta city told AFP the clip was genuine and said they had been present at the recording.
"This audio was recorded yesterday by our leader Mansour, we were present. The meeting was attended by our high officials, edited, and then sent on to the media," said one of the officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Rahimullah Yousufzai, a Pakistani analyst and long-time observer of the Taliban, said the voice sounded like Mansour's.
"I believe it is him," he said, but added that questions would be asked over the delay in releasing the clip.
"Why did they wait almost five days to do that? If they'd done it earlier it might have been more effective," he said.
He added that uncertainty within the ranks had been compounded by the mystery surrounding the death of Mullah Omar.
Afghan intelligence officials announced his death in July, with the Taliban later confirming their founder had died in 2013, apparently due to illness.
Mansour was declared Taliban leader on July 31, but splits immediately emerged in the group, with some top leaders refusing to pledge their allegiance to the new leader saying the process to select him was rushed and biased.
A breakaway faction of the Taliban led by Mullah Mohamed Rasool was formed last month, in the first formal division in the once-unified group.
But Mansour's group has seen a resurgence in recent months, opening new battlefronts across the country with Afghan forces struggling to beat back the expanding insurgency.
Speculation about Mansour's death has also threatened to derail a renewed regional push to jump-start peace talks with the Taliban.
Mansour is believed to be a proponent of talks with Afghan authorities, a deeply contentious issue that has prompted much rancour within hardline insurgent ranks.