ISLAMABAD - Afghanistan’s Taliban announced Monday its deceased leader Mullah Omar’s elder son has assumed command of the insurgency in 15 out of the country’s 34 provinces.
A Taliban statement said Omar’s son, Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob, also has been inducted into the powerful decision making leadership council that the group calls “Rehbari Shura.”
Reports of a power struggle within the Taliban had been circulating since the announcement last July that Omar was dead. The longtime Taliban leader actually died in 2013, but the secretive group concealed his demise during months and years of fighting with Afghan forces and the U.S.-led coalition supporting them.
The Taliban also inducted Omar’s brother Mullah Abdul Manan Omeri in the leadership council, according to the statement.
Both the son and brother of the deceased leader had refused to pledge allegiance to his successor, Mullah Akthar Mansoor, splintering the Taliban into competing factions.
However, Yaqoob and Omeri were later persuaded by key Taliban and religious leaders to end differences in return for the key posts they now occupy.
Monday’s announcement is likely to further consolidate Mansor’s leadership and his control over the Taliban as it prepares to launch its annual spring offensive later this month.
Omar had been the supreme commander and spiritual leader of the Taliban since 1996. Afghan officials asserted he fled to Pakistan and dropped out of sight after the 2001 U.S. invasion that ousted the Islamist group from power.
Afghanistan and Pakistan, with the support of the United States and China, have been trying to arrange direct peace talks between the Kabul government and the Taliban, and an initial meeting was expected to take place earlier in Islamabad.
But the insurgent group refused to attend and Mansour, has instead recently asked Taliban fighters to prepare for a “decisive battle” this summer to take advantage of battlefield victories over the past year.
Mullah Omar’s family was accommodated just days after a senior leader, Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir, declared allegiance to Mansoor.
Zakir also was among influential leaders who earlier refused to accept Mansoor as Omar’s successor.