'No evidence' Afghan Taliban leader Mansour is dead

Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, new leader of the Taliban militants, is seen in this undated handout photograph by the Taliban Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Mullah Mansour's appointment has prompted splits in the Taliban

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani says there is "no evidence" Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour is dead, after reports of an internal gunfight.

Mr Ghani was speaking after the Taliban released an audio tape said to be from Mullah Mansour in which he calls reports of the firefight "baseless".

It was said to have taken place near the Pakistani city of Quetta last week.

Mansour was declared leader in July after the Taliban confirmed that Mullah Omar had died in 2013.

Mansour's appointment then prompted splits in the Taliban.

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'Enemy propaganda'

Mr Ghani told a press conference on Monday: "There is no evidence that Mansour has been killed."

He added: "The incident that occurred should be carefully analysed."

He was referring to a gunfight that was said to have taken place on the outskirts of the western city of Quetta last Tuesday.

Some reports said Mansour had been seriously hurt, others that he had died, along with four Taliban gunmen.

Late on Saturday, the Taliban released the audio tape in which the speaker refers to the "rumour that fighting happened among the Taliban at a time when a meeting was in progress".

"The rumour says I was injured during the clash and later some media outlets reported that I died. Brothers, this report is not true, there is no doubt that it is enemy propaganda," the speaker says.

Who is Mullah Mansour?

  • Long seen as acting head of the Taliban, and close to its founder Mullah Omar
  • Born in the 1960s, in Kandahar province, where he later served as shadow governor after the Taliban's fall
  • Was civil aviation minister during the Taliban's rule in Afghanistan
  • Had an active role in drug trafficking, according to the UN
  • Has clashed with Abdul Qayum Zakir, a senior military commander, amid a power struggle and differences over negotiations with the Afghan government
  • A man claiming to be Mansour met former Afghan President Hamid Karzai for peace talks in 2010 - but it later emerged he was an imposter

The voice resembled that in previous recordings issued by Mansour but there has still been speculation about its authenticity.

In the 17-minute message he says he has not seen the place where the fight was said to have taken place "for years", adding: "I am safe and my colleagues are safe. I am among my colleagues."

The speaker insists the Taliban will continue to fight to establish an "Islamic government" in Afghanistan and resist peace overtures.

Since August Mansour has overseen a series of battlefield victories, including briefly capturing the northern Afghan city of Kunduz.

But the movement has split into openly warring factions.

A number of senior Taliban commanders refused to pledge allegiance to Mansour and a faction opposed to him was set up last month under Mullah Mohammad Rasool.