By MIRWAIS KHAN and RAHIM FAIEZ
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) — A breakaway Taliban faction in Afghanistan has appointed a new leader for the group, the nephew of the faction’s longtime leader who was killed in fighting with rivals last year.
The development reflects the complex layers of the insurgency in Afghanistan, where though dominant, the Taliban are not the only militant group waging war.
At a gathering Monday in southern Zabul province, Mullah Emdadullah Mansoor was named leader of the faction known as Mahaaz-e-Dadullah. The meeting was attended by tribal and religious leaders, as well as the group’s local commanders.
Associated Press video of the gathering shows Mansoor accepting the leadership position among a crowd of gunmen, mostly young guards. He is the nephew of Mullah Mansoor Dadullah who was killed in Khak-e-Afghan district of Zabul last year, fighting with rival Taliban.
“I accept the leadership of these men, based on the decision of the clerics,” said Mansoor, promising to “fight foreign forces” and exact revenge for the group’s slain leader.
Before Mullah Mansoor Dadullah was killed in Zabul, the founder of the group, Mullah Dadullah, was also killed in an ambush, possibly by one of his bodyguards in southern Helmand province. He was also an uncle of the newly named leader.
At the Monday gathering, several armed men in white-colored clothing with black balaclavas who call themselves suicide bombers said they were ready to carry out attacks against the rival Taliban as well as foreign forces in the country.
“I announce that I will take … revenge from Mullah Haibatullah’s group,” said Mansoor. And of his rivals, he said “it is time for them to pay the price.”
Mansoor was referring to the current head of the rival Taliban, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, a religious extremist who replaced Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in May.
The Mahaaz-e-Dadullah group, known for its fighting skills and suicide attacks, virtually disappeared from the Afghan killing fields after the death of Mansoor’s uncles. Their re-emergence could create a headache for the Taliban as the faction is present in various parts of the Taliban heartland in the south.
“Now we are back on track with our mission” said Mullah Nematullah Samim, Mansoor’s deputy.
Another would-be suicide bomber, Qari Misbah, said at Monday’s gathering that he has been “waiting for my turn for a long time ago and now it’s the time for me, I can give my body and soul.”
Samim denied that Mahaaz-e-Dadullah has been uniting forces in Zabul with Afghanistan’s branch of the Islamic State group, which emerged last year, mainly in the country’s east, close the border with Pakistan.
“We don’t want to be weak or depend on others,” he said.
Faiez reported from Kabul, Afghanistan.