KABUL (Reuters) - Power struggles among the Taliban following the death of their leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour will probably lead to more fighting and suicide attacks in the coming weeks, a powerful Afghan provincial governor said on Monday.
Atta Mohammad Noor, governor of the northern Balkh province, said authorities had to brace for a surge in violence as rival candidates established their claims to the leadership of the insurgency.
He pointed to a spate of suicide bombings as well as the intense fighting that led to the temporary fall of the northern city of Kunduz last year as Mansour looked to consolidate his newly won position.
“Fighting may well pick up in some parts of the country after the killing of the Taliban leader, with suicide and bomb attacks (used) as a means of downplaying the importance of losing their leader,” he told Reuters in an interview.
Balkh, a province previously considered one of the most secure in Afghanistan, has recently seen a marked pick up in fighting, and, for the first time, the appearance of fighters claiming allegiance to the militant Islamic State movement, once confined to the eastern province of Nangarhar.
The killing of Mansour in a U.S. drone strike on Saturday appears to have dashed any hopes of a quick resumption in stalled peace talks which the United States, Pakistan and China had been attempting to broker.
Noor, a former commander in the anti-Soviet “mujahideen” resistance movement who later fought against the Taliban, was critical of President Ashraf Ghani’s handling of what he called a “failed” peace process.
But he said there was scope for the government to exploit a likely fracturing in the insurgency.
Already, a potential split in the Taliban is developing between supporters of Sirajuddin Haqqani, leader of the notorious network blamed for a spate of bombings in Kabul, and supporters of Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob, son of the movement’s founder Mullah Mohammad Omar.
Unless the leadership issue is resolved quickly, some fighters could drift away to rival militant groups such as Islamic State or the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.
“If the government works well, some of them might surrender,” said Noor.
Reporting by James Mackenzie; Editing by Mike Collett-White