Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour has been seriously wounded and possibly killed in Pakistan in a shootout between senior members of the Islamist movement.
There are conflicting accounts of the incident, with different factions of the Taliban reporting different versions of events, and some are denying the shooting even took place. Others are admit to a shoot-out but claim Mansour is still alive.
The incident allegedly took place in the house of a senior Taliban leader Mullah Abdullah Sarhadi outside Quetta in western Pakistan. A dispute between senior leadership led to a gunbattle, multiple sources within the Pakistani Taliban confirmed to both VICE News and Reuters.
Sources close to the Pakistani Taliban also told VICE News that Sarhadi was taken to a nearby hospital and died of his wounds.
Taliban members described the shootout as a bloodbath.
"During the discussion, some senior people developed differences and they opened fire on each other," one of the commanders said.
The commander said five senior Taliban members were killed in a hail of bullets, and that more than a dozen others were injured in the melee. According to that same commander, Mansour was rushed to a private hospital with four bullet wounds from an AK-47.
At the same time, a Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid denied the incident ever took place and said Mansour was safe and sound in Afghanistan.
"This is a rumor which is completely baseless. Akthar Mohammad Mansour is totally fine and nothing has happened to him," he told Reuters. "This is the act of Afghan intelligence agencies. They spread these rumors about a clash between Taliban leaders. Nothing happened like this even in that area."
Sources within the Afghan security forces did tell VICE News that Mansour had been killed, though it was impossible to verify the leader's death.
The Taliban has long been dogged by rumors of its leaders deaths. Last July, the Taliban revealed for the first time that it's previous head, Mullah Omar, had died two years earlier.
Ever since, several factions have vied for control over the group. Immediately after Omar's announced death, Mansour, who had long been Omar's righthand man, was appointed to succeed him
But splinter factions disputed Mansour's leadership, and accused him of being a pawn of Pakistani intelligence. Mullah Mohammad Rasool Akhund, has formed his own Taliban group and has openly challenged Mansour's authority.
But after the Taliban captured the city of Kunduz last September, Mansour enjoyed a surge of legitimacy.
The dynamic is complicated by the fact that the Taliban is considering entering into peace talks with the US and the government in Kabul. In fact, a Taliban commander told Reuters that the sit-down on Tuesday was billed as a strategy session to discuss peace talks and how to deal with splinter groups.
Another Taliban commander said the shootout was precipitated by fierce disagreement over how to deal with the splinter faction headed by Mullah Mohammad Rasool Akhund. Dozens of Taliban fighters died last month, as rival factions battled for control of the southeastern province of Zabul.
Now, with Mullah Mansour's fate uncertain, the future of peace talks, and the trajectory of those internal rivalries, are up in the air.
"We have no access to Mullah Mansour after the incident last night." a Taliban commander told Reuters. "We have been hearing that he had succumbed to his injuries but we can neither confirm nor deny it."
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