Kandahar (Afghanistan) – Fierce clashes have erupted between two rival Taliban groups in southern Afghanistan, officials said Sunday, reportedly leaving dozens dead in the first internecine fighting since a breakaway faction of the Islamist movement appointed its own leader.
The skirmish was taking place in southern Zabul province between fighters loyal to the widely-recognised Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour and followers of Mansoor Dadullah, a deputy of splinter-group leader Mohamed Rasool who announced his own faction Tuesday.
“The fighting started from early Saturday morning in Khak-i-Afghan and Arghandab districts of Zabul province. About 60 fighters of Mullah Dadullah and 20 of Akhtar Mansour have been killed,” Ghulam Jilani Farahi the deputy police chief for the province told AFP, adding 30 others were injured.
The two districts are under Taliban control, and it was unclear how Farahi arrived at his figures.
“The fighters killed are mostly from Mansour Dadullah’s group, including foreign fighters from Uzbekistan,” he said.
Islam Gul Seyal, the provincial governor’s spokesman, confirmed the battle and said fighting was still going on.
Mansoor Dadullah was appointed as second deputy for Rasool, who was named the leader of the splinter group in a mass gathering of dissident fighters on October 3, in the remote southwestern province of Farah, according to an AFP reporter who attended the meeting.
It was unclear whether the new group could rally wide support but its emergence poses a fresh hurdle to potential peace talks with the government.
It also exposes simmering rifts within the movement since the announcement in July of the death of longtime leader Mullah Omar.
Also on Sunday, the bodies of seven minority Shiite Hazaras who were kidnapped in October from neighbouring Ghazni province by gunmen were found dead in Zabul.
“The seven Hazara bodies — three women and four men — all have been beheaded and were brought by tribal elders to a hospital in Shah Joy district,” Jawad Waziri district governor for Shah Joy said.
There has been a rise in sectarian killings in Afghanistan this year, blamed by observers on the growing influence of foreign Sunni fighters and the Islamic State group in the country.