An audio message purportedly from the Taliban's new leader has surfaced
A second round of peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban was postponed on Friday
U.S. intelligence community believes Mullah Mohammed Omar is dead, White House says
The reported new leader of the Taliban denies that the Sunni Islamist group is attempting to work toward a peace process with the Afghan government.
“When we hear about different processes including the peace process, they are all the propaganda campaigns by the enemy,” an audio message from the apparent new leader says. “They are spreading their propaganda by spending money, through media and some scholars to only weaken our jihad, but we will not pay attention to any of those including the peace process. We will continue our jihad and we will fight until we bring an Islamic rule in the country.”
A Taliban spokesman confirmed on Friday that Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour was named the group’s new leader.
Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour will be the Taliban’s new leader following the death of longtime leader Mullah Mohammed Omar.
Michael Semple, a professor at the Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation and Social Justice at Queens University Belfast, told CNN that rumors that Mansour is steering the Taliban toward the peace process may be naive.
“People should perhaps reassess the line which has been put about that he was leading the movement towards peace,” Semple said. “He is the one who has presided over the movement during a period of escalation of the violence. Actions speak louder than words.”
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has made peace negotiations with the Taliban a top priority.
In a statement on Omar’s death, a spokesman for Ghani said the government was optimistic about the talks “and thus calls on all armed opposition groups to seize the opportunity and join the peace process.”
The latest developments come weeks after the Afghan government held its first face-to-face talks with Taliban representatives in an attempt to work toward a peace process.
The first round of formal talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban took place in Murree, Pakistan, at the beginning of July. A second round of talks was slated to take place in Islamabad on Friday but was postponed after the Taliban confirmed Omar’s death.
CNN Security Analyst Bob Baer says that Omar’s death may force the Taliban to put the current round of peace talks on hold.
“What we’re seeing is the breakup of the Taliban,” Baer said. “With the announcement of Mullah Omar’s death, there’s a real power struggle at the top.”
“I would doubt that negotiations with Kabul are going to continue in the middle of a fight like this, but we’ll have to wait and see.”
The White House released a statement Friday saying the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment was that Omar had in fact died.
“While the exact circumstances of his death remain uncertain, it is clear that his demise, after decades of war and thousands of lives lost, represents a chance for yet more progress on the path to a stable, secure Afghanistan,” the White House statement said.
The elusive leader had not appeared in public since the Taliban regime’s overthrow in Afghanistan 14 years ago and made no video or authenticated audio statements in that time.
Under Omar’s leadership, the Taliban offered shelter to al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, precipitating the U.S. military action in Afghanistan after the terror attacks of September 11, 2001.
That led to a Taliban insurgency that continues to this day, even as U.S. and other NATO troops are drawing down their numbers in Afghanistan.
The U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan ended last year, leaving the Afghan military to lead the fight against the Taliban. The thousands of NATO troops that remain in Afghanistan are there in a training and support role.
Mansour takes the reins
Mansour formerly headed the council, also known as the Quetta Shura, which is composed of longtime leaders who direct the Taliban’s operations from Pakistan’s Balochistan province, according to the Jamestown Foundation, a global research and analysis group.
According to the U.N. Security Council sanctions list, Mansour previously was the Taliban’s minister of civil aviation and transportation and is considered “a prominent member of the Taliban leadership.”
“He was repatriated to Afghanistan in September 2006 following detention in Pakistan. He is involved in drug trafficking and was active in the provinces of Khost, Paktia and Paktika in Afghanistan as of May 2007. He was also the Taliban ‘Governor’ of Kandahar as of May 2007,” the U.N. document said.
He was an active recruiter in the Taliban’s fight against the Afghan government, and before his appointment as Omar’s deputy in 2010, he was chief of military affairs for a regional Taliban military council that oversees operations in Nimruz and Helmand provinces, the United Nations said.
The Western source said senior Taliban leaders met in Quetta, Pakistan, this past week to discuss the death of Omar and the ongoing Afghan-Taliban peace talks.
CNN’s Eliott McLaughlin, Laura Smith-Spark, Jason Hanna, Samira Said and Sophia Saifi contributed to this report, as did journalist Zahir Shah.