Vehement denials by the Islamist group of any firefight have fallen on sceptical ears, especially after they kept the death of longtime chief Mullah Omar secret for two years.
    
Speculation about Mansour's fate reached a fever pitch after unconfirmed media reports on Friday claimed that he had died, even as the group vowed to release an audio message from the leader to prove otherwise.
    
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid acknowledged it would take some time to provide evidence that Mansour was still alive. "Our supreme leader is in a far away place where only a few trusted commanders can reach him," Mujahid said.
    
"We are trying to get an audio message from him soon." The militant movement, which saw its first formal split last month, has appeared anxious to quell speculation about Mansour's fate.
    
Mansour was appointed leader four months ago in an acrimonious leadership transition and his death, if confirmed, could intensify the power struggle within the fractious group.
    
"The Taliban is suffering from a credibility crisis after they admitted to hiding Omar's death for years," Kabul-based military analyst Jawed Kohistani cited. "But they will do everything in their power to conceal Mansour's injury or death, which could provoke fresh infighting within the group or lead to further fragmentation." Mansour was declared Taliban leader on July 31 after the insurgents confirmed the death of Omar, who led the Islamist movement for about two decades.

 

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