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Rival Taliban factions clash in western Afghanistan
Taliban fighters from two major rival factions clashed today in the western Afghan province of Herat. Afghan officials and military commanders claimed that more than 50 Taliban fighters were killed as supporters of Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, the established Taliban branch in Afghanistan, and followers of a breakaway faction led by Mullah Mohammad Rasul continue to vie for control of the insurgency in Afghanistan.
Today's fighting took place in the village of Zirkoh in Herat's Shindand district, which is said to be under Taliban control. Mansour's followers were led by Mullah Abdul Samad, while Rasul's followers were led by Raz Mohammad Nangialy, according to Khaama Press. Nangialy's fighters "set fire to their rival's bases" after Samad's followers initiated the fighting, TOLONews reported. Samad is said to have been wounded. The details of the fighting could not be confirmed independently.
Shindand is a stronghold of Rasul's splinter Taliban group, which is called the "High Council of Afghanistan Islamic Emirate." In November, Rasul addressed a crowd of 6,000 people in Zirkoh in which he said he supports both al Qaeda and the Islamic State, but "we will not let them in [Afghanistan] nor will we agree with them in this country," RFE/RL reported.
Mansour's Taliban, known as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, confirmed that fighting took place in Shindand but blamed it on "Arbaki militiamen and bandits," according to a statement released on Voice of Jihad, the group's official propaganda arm. The Taliban said that eight fighters were killed but its forces ultimately defeated the attack. According to Voice of Jihad, the so-called militiamen were led by "Commander Baryal" and "Nangyal." The Taliban said that four of Nangyal's lieutenants, known as "Shabak, Pes Khudairam, Pahlawanak and Abdul Himmat," were killed in the fighting.
The Taliban have downplayed clashes with Rasul's breakaway faction in the past. When Mansour loyalists attacked Rasul's deputy, Mullah Dadullah Mansour, in Zabul in November, the Taliban issued a statement on Voice of Jihad that claimed that it battled fighters loyal to the Islamic State. Afghan officials and other Taliban commanders confirmed that Dadullah and his backers were indeed targeted in Zabul. Dadullah is thought to have been killed in the fighting.
The Taliban have a vested interest in downplaying reports of infighting with factions that do not recognize Mansour's leadership. Rasul, Dadullah, and some other senior commanders refused to recognize Mansour as their emir after it was disclosed last summer that the Taliban leadership hid the death of Mullah Omar, the group's founder and first leader, for more than two years. Some Taliban commanders resented this and were unhappy that Mansour was chosen to succeed Omar.
Mansour is seeking to tamp down reports of infighting as it threatens to portray the group as being disunited at a time when the US is withdrawing its forces, the Taliban is retaking large areas of Afghanistan, and the Islamic State is attempting to establish a firm beachhead in the region. The Taliban has issued numerous statements on the importance of remaining unified, and has pointed back to the years prior to the establishment of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan in 1996, when warlords and rival muhajideen factions tore the country apart while battling for supremacy.
[Source: By Bill Roggio, The Long War Journal, NJ, 08Dec15]
War in Afghanistan & Iraq
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