New Taliban leader facing tension as top official quits

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What We Know About The New Taliban Leader

A top Taliban official announced his resignation on Tuesday amid a growing leadership struggle in the Afghan insurgent movement after news of the death of leader Mullah Mohammad Omar last week.

The swift announcement that Omar's longtime deputy, Mullah Mohammad Akhtar Mansour, would be the new leader has riled many senior figures angry about the implication that Mansour covered up Omar's death for more than two years.

The infighting could split the Taliban and threatens tentative peace talks with the Kabul government to end 13 years of war that began with a U.S.-led campaign after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

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New Taliban leader facing tension as top official quits
An Afghan newspaper headlines pictures of the new leader of the Afghan Taliban, Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansoor, left, and Mullah Mohammad Omar, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Aug. 1, 2015. The new leader of the Afghan Taliban vowed to continue his group's bloody, nearly 14-year insurgency in an audio message released Saturday, urging his fighters to remain unified after the death of their longtime leader. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)
Graphic shows gives some information on the top leaders in the Taliban; 2c x 4 1/2 inches; 96.3 mm x 114 mm;
An Afghan man holds a calendar bearing the images of Afghan leaders including the Taliban's late chief Mullah Omar (bottom 2nd L) in Kandahar on July 31, 2015. The Taliban named Mullah Akhtar Mansour as their new leader July 31, a historic power transition that raises hopes the relative moderate's leadership will pave the way for an end to Afghanistan's bloody war. AFP PHOTO / Javed Tanveer (Photo credit should read JAVED TANVEER/AFP/Getty Images)
An Afghan shop clerk shows a calendar with pictures of Afghan leaders including Mullah Mohammad Omar, center, in Kandahar, south of Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, July 30, 2015. The Taliban confirmed the death of longtime leader Mullah Omar and appointed his successor Thursday, as a new round of peace talks was indefinitely postponed amid concerns over how committed the new leadership is to ending the militant group's 14-year insurgency. (AP Photo/Barialai Khoshhal)
Hafiz Saeed, leader of Pakistan's religious group Jamaatud Dawa, front, leads a funeral prayers for Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar at a mosque in Lahore, Pakistan, Thursday, July 30, 2015. Afghanistan's Taliban on Thursday confirmed the death of Mullah Omar, who led the group's self-styled Islamic emirate in the 1990s, sheltered al-Qaida through the 9/11 attacks and led a 14-year insurgency against U.S. and NATO troops. (AP Photo/Ahmed Ali)
An Afghan store clerk shows a calendar with pictures of Afghan leaders including Mullah Mohammad Omar, bottom row, second left, in Kandahar, south of Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, July 30, 2015. The Taliban confirmed the death of longtime leader Mullah Omar and appointed his successor Thursday, as a new round of peace talks was indefinitely postponed amid concerns over how committed the new leadership is to ending the militant group's 14-year insurgency. (AP Photo/Barialai Khoshhal)
A man reads a newspaper at a news stand where local newspapers are displayed carrying headlines about the death of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, in Peshawar, Pakistan, Thursday, July 30, 2015. Afghanistan's Taliban on Thursday confirmed the death of Mullah Omar, who led the group's self-styled Islamic emirate in the 1990s, sheltered al-Qaida through the 9/11 attacks and led a 14-year insurgency against U.S. and NATO troops. (AP Photo/Mohammad Sajjad)
Deputy press secretary Eric Schultz speaks to the media during the daily briefing in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, July 29, 2015. White House says reports of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar's death are credible.(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Afghan security forces inspect the site of a suicide attack after clashes with Taliban fighters in front of the Parliament, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, June 22, 2015. The Taliban launched a complex attack on the Afghan parliament Monday, with a suicide car bomber striking at the entrance and gunmen battling police as lawmakers were meeting inside to confirm the appointment of a defense minister, police and witnesses said. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)
Deputy presidential spokesman Zafar Hashimi speaks during a press conference in Kabul on July 29, 2015. The Afghan government is investigating reports of the death of Taliban supremo Mullah Omar, a presidential spokesman said on July 29, amid frenzied speculation about the rumoured demise of the reclusive warrior-cleric.The Taliban have not officially confirmed the death of Mullah Omar, who has not been seen publicly since the 2001 US-led invasion of Afghanistan toppled the Taliban government in Kabul.  (Photo credit: SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images)
Pakistan members of Jamiat Nazriati party march in a rally to pay tribute to Afghanistan's deceased Taliban chief Mullah Omar, in Quetta on August 2, 2015. New Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour called for unity in the movement August 1, in his first audio message since becoming head of the group that faces deepening splits following the death of longtime chief Mullah Omar. AFP PHOTO / Banaras KHAN (Photo credit should read BANARAS KHAN/AFP/Getty Images)
An Afghan man reads a local newspaper at a news stand carrying a headline about the new leader of the Afghan Taliban, Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansoor, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Aug. 1, 2015. The new leader of the Afghan Taliban vowed to continue his group's bloody, nearly 14-year insurgency in an audio message released Saturday, urging his fighters to remain unified after the death of their longtime leader. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)
Supporters of a Pakistani religious group 'Jamaat-ud-Dawa' attend funeral prayers for Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar at a mosque in Islamabad, Pakistan, Saturday, Aug. 1, 2015. Afghanistan's Taliban on Thursday confirmed the death of Mullah Omar, who led the group's self-styled Islamic emirate in the 1990s, sheltered al-Qaida through the 9/11 attacks and led a 14-year insurgency against U.S. and NATO troops. (AP Photo/Anjum Naveed)
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Since Mansour's appointment was announced by the Taliban leadership council based in Quetta, Pakistan, it has been denounced by several top members of the group, including Omar's brother, who has called for an assembly to choose the leader.

On Tuesday, Taliban official Syed Mohammad Tayab Agha announced he was stepping down as director of the Political Office in the Qatari capital Doha, originally set up to enable the Taliban to negotiate in any peace process.

Agha said he considered the decision to conceal Omar's death - generally attributed to Mansour - a "historic mistake by the individuals concerned".

"Now, as the leader is appointed outside the country and from the people who are residing outside the country is also considered as a great historical mistake," he said in a statement.

Considered close to Pakistan's powerful intelligence services, Mansour faces a challenge to hold the movement together. Hardline commanders are pressing for an end to talks and the continuation of fighting that has been increasingly successful in recent months.

Some reports suggest there have been clashes between rival Taliban groups, although a Taliban spokesman denied that.

Abdul Raouf Ahmadi, a police spokesman in the western province of Herat, said eight fighters, including a commander, were killed on Sunday in a battle over the leadership between two groups in a village in Shindand district.

A Taliban spokesman dismissed the report as baseless enemy propaganda.

TALIBAN FRACTURING, UNDER PRESSURE

U.S. General John Campbell, the top American commander in Afghanistan, said disclosure of Omar's death piled more pressure on the Taliban, which he added was already fracturing and faced growing competition from other militant groups such as Islamic State.

That, he said, presented an opportunity for Afghan peace efforts.

"I think it's an opportunity. People (in the Taliban) are going to say: 'Hey, why am I fighting? You've been lying to me for two years,'" Campbell said, speaking to Reuters on the sidelines of an event in Washington.

"So I think the Afghan population has an opportunity to really work this very hard, and I think Pakistan (will) continue to work it very hard."

Still, he acknowledged uncertainty ahead, including for Mansour, noting: "I'm not sure he's been universally accepted as the leader of the Taliban."

The tension pointed at least to a suspension of the peace process while Mansour tries to consolidates his position.

Several commanders are known to have stopped fighting until the situation is clarified and there have been calls for a new council to be summoned to decide the leadership issue.

In his statement, Agha said previous leaders appointed outside the country, going back to the invasion by Soviet forces and the government set up after the Taliban were ousted, had "very bad repercussions" for Afghanistan.

The leader should be appointed "in presence of the courageous mujahideen in their strongholds inside the country", Agha said, referring to Islamist fighters.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said he could not confirm the statement came from Agha, but two senior members of the Qatar office said he had resigned on Monday.

"Relations between Mullah Mansour and Tayyab Agha had never been friendly even when Mullah Omar was alive," said another Taliban member, who is close to Agha.

(Additional reporting by Mirwais Harooni in Kabul, Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart in Washington; Writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by David Storey and Ken Wills)

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