December 10, 2016 / 2:35 PM / 3 years ago

Taliban chief reinforces position with backing of two key members

KABUL (Reuters) - Hardline cleric Mullah Haibatullah Akundzada has reinforced his position as the new leader of the Afghan Taliban by winning the support of two senior members, the insurgent group said on Saturday.

Former Taliban interior minister Mullah Abdul Razaq Akhund and Mullah Abdul Sata Akhund “pledged their full support” to Akundzada during a meeting of Taliban scholars at an undisclosed location on Friday, the group said on its website.

Akundzada in May replaced former Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Akhtar Mansour who was killed by a U.S. drone strike.

Senior members of the insurgent group hope Akundzada will be able to bring disparate factions together and repair the splits that emerged last year when Mansour was appointed.

Afghan security forces have struggled to hold off resurgent Taliban fighters, who are estimated to control more territory in Afghanistan than at any time since 2001 when the U.S. invaded.

Reporting by Mirwais Harooni; Writing by Randy Fabi Editing by Jeremy Gaunt

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