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Scores Of Taliban Fighters Killed In Infighting

Afghan Taliban fighters listen to Mullah Mohammad Rasul, November 2015.
Afghan Taliban fighters listen to Mullah Mohammad Rasul, November 2015.

More than 70 fighters have been killed in infighting between the two major Taliban factions in Afghanistan's western Herat Province.

Officials say the clashes, which erupted in Herat's Shindand district on July 7, are still continuing.

Supporters of Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansur, the leader of the main Taliban faction, are battling with the followers of his rival, Mullah Mohammad Rasul. More than 60 fighters have also been injured in the gun battles and exchange of heavy weapon fire so far.

Qari Hamza, a purported spokesman of Fidai Mahaz, a Taliban faction allied with Rasul, alleged that Mansur's supporters are targeting fighters loyal to their regional commander, Mullah Nangyal, in Shindand's Zirkoh, Khan Abad, and Ali Abad areas with remote-controlled bombs and ambushes.

"Today, Akhtar Mohammad's militias are hunting our mujahedin and killing them in the name of countering Daesh," a Fidai Mahaz statement on March 7 said. Daesh is an Arabic acronym for the so-called Islamic State.

Abdul Manan Niazi, a Rasul confidant, claimed their fighters have so far cleared Zirkoh of their opponents despite Mansur supporters being backed by a large number of Punjabi fighters from Pakistan.

In an unusually candid admission last week, Sartaj Aziz, Pakistan's foreign policy adviser, said Islamabad is hosting Taliban leaders and retains influence over them.

Mansur's supporters, however, countered such claims. Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, a purported spokesman for the Taliban, maintained the fighting was the result of an Afghan government-sponsored conspiracy. He, however, did not reveal the details of the conspiracy nor did he explain how Kabul was able to infiltrate its armed opponents.

Jilani Farhad, a spokesperson for Herat's governor, says the fighting appears to be intensifying.

The fighting in Shindand follows similar clashes three months ago that saw more than 50 fighters from both sides killed in battle.

Hundreds of Taliban fighters have died in infighting since the secretive organization acknowledged the death of its founding leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, in July. Rasul led a number of senior Taliban leaders in opposing Mansur's appointment as Omar's successor, which eventually led to clashes between their followers.

Mansur's faction appeared to have gained an upper hand after killing one of Rasul's deputies, Mansur Dadullah, and his Central Asian militant allies after intense clashes in the southern Afghan province of Zabul in November.

Despite holding several large gatherings of Afghan clerics in Pakistan's southwestern Balochistan Province in recent months, the two sides appeared to have failed to reconcile and are now pushing to resolve their differences on the Afghan frontlines.

Radio Free Afghanistan correspondents Shahpur Sabir and Asmatullah Sarwan contributed reporting from Herat and Prague