Afghanistan’s Taliban released a voice message late Saturday purportedly from its supreme leader, Mullah Akhtar Mansour, in which he refuted claims he had been killed in a gunbattle earlier this week.
“Brothers, there is no truth in this news and it is absolutely baseless. It is part of the enemy propaganda war to create an impression that there are differences in the Taliban leadership and they have turned into a deadly infighting,” Mansour said in a 14-minute recorded message that Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid shared with VOA.
The Taliban chief said he was “safe and healthy” and repeatedly dismissed rumors about his death and rifts in the Taliban leadership. He said the Kabul government and its intelligence agency had unleashed the propaganda campaign to malign and divide the Taliban.
Mansour urged his followers not worry about his well-being and to ignore what he said was propaganda. He vowed the Taliban would continue its fight until an “Islamic system” was established in Afghanistan.
The Afghan government said Wednesday that Mansour had been seriously wounded when gunfire broke out during a meeting of Taliban commanders in neighboring Pakistan.
Some officials in Kabul claimed later that the Afghan Taliban chief had been mortally wounded during the incident Tuesday and later died of the injuries he suffered in Kuchlak, a small town near Quetta, capital of Pakistan’s southwestern Baluchistan province.
“This is completely unfounded and let me tell you, and believe me, that I have not visited the Kuchlak area of Quetta for years,” Mansour said in the voice message.
In a bid to establish the timeliness and authenticity of his message, Mansour referred to an incident Friday in Maidan Wardak province in central Afghanistan.
At least nine civilians were killed by a mortar shell that exploded near a mosque in the Sayedabad district of the province. Afghan government troops had been firing mortars in the area during a clash with Taliban fighters.
Mansour told Taliban colleagues he was grieving over the incident and offered his condolences to the victims' families.
While the audio has not been verified by intelligence experts, the voice sounds consistent with those in earlier messages attributed to Mansour. In addition, an estranged Taliban colleague of Mansour's told VOA he thought the message was authentic.
Hours before the Taliban disclosed details of the audio message Saturday, Afghan authorities reiterated that Mansour had been wounded in the firefight in Pakistan.
“It shows that the Taliban leadership is still in Pakistan, that they still enjoy a luxury life in Pakistan and the Pakistani establishment [a reference to the neighboring country’s powerful military] are still backing and supporting the insurgents who are fighting in Afghanistan,” Javed Faisal, a government spokesman in Kabul, told VOA.
Afghan officials have long alleged that Pakistan is "training, equipping and directing" the Taliban insurgency as part of efforts to interfere in Afghan affairs. Islamabad has regularly denied such charges.