PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) - A leader of a breakaway Afghan Taliban faction fighting for control of the Islamist movement has been shot and wounded by a bodyguard, two Taliban commanders said on Tuesday, highlighting unprecedented chaos embroiling the militants.
The Taliban have been riven by a split for the first time and are also contending with an ideological challenge from Islamic State (IS) militants who appear to be gaining supporters in Afghanistan.
But the rivalry in the Taliban is not expected to benefit the government, reeling from the militants’ brief capture of a provincial capital in September, but is likely to kill off any hope for peace talks and could present IS with turmoil to exploit.
The two Taliban commanders said Mullah Mansoor Dadullah, brother of a notorious Taliban commander killed in 2007, was shot and wounded by a bodyguard several days ago in the southern province of Zabul.
“He lost consciousness due to loss of blood and was taken to a clinic where he was given treatment but was very critical,” said one of the commanders, both of whom declined to be identified.
A spokesman for Dadullah confirmed he had been wounded but said it was in fighting rival Taliban forces.
Dadullah is a leader in a Taliban faction that broke away from the main insurgent group following the announcement in July of the death of supreme Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar.
One of Mullah Omar’s aides, Mullah Akhtar Mansour, was appointed as successor, but his claim to the leadership has been rejected by some in the movement and a splinter faction named a rival leader this month.
A prolonged Taliban split would likely complicate the resumption of peace talks with the government, which broke down in July following the announcement of Omar’s death.
The first Taliban commander said the bodyguard who shot Dadullah was immediately killed by Dadullah’s other guards.
The other Taliban commander said Dadullah’s whereabouts were not known.
“His close people are claiming he is alive ... We asked them to at least issue an audio statement so people will believe he is alive,” the second commander said.
But Dadullah’s men said he would issue a message when had recovered, he said.
Afghan police said last week Dadullah had been killed in a clash with rival militants but a spokesman for his faction denied that.
However, on Tuesday, the spokesman, Mullah Abdul Manan Niazi, said Dadullah had been wounded.
“We know the enemy has spread rumors about his death but we will soon prove he is alive,” Niazi said.
Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani