KABUL, Afghanistan – Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor has released a rare audio recording in which he denies claims by an Afghan official that he was wounded in a shootout during a meeting with other commanders in Pakistan last week.
In a 17-minute audio recording sent to media by the Taliban late Saturday, Mansoor dismissed what he called "baseless claims" that were "part of the agenda of the enemy." The Taliban had earlier sent The Associated Press a two-minute version of the recording.
The voice resembled that in previous recordings issued by Mansoor, who succeeded longtime Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar after his death was announced last summer. Mansoor has since faced internal challenges to his leadership, including by a breakaway faction that has battled fighters loyal to him.
"I haven't seen Kuchlak in years," he said, referring to an area near the Pakistani city of Quetta where the dispute was said to have taken place. He ordered his fighters to pay no heed to "baseless rumors" and to continue waging jihad, or holy war, against the Afghan government.
The audio message was released two days after Sultan Faizy, the spokesman for Afghanistan's First Vice President Abdul Rasheed Dostum, claimed that Mansoor was wounded in a firefight that broke out at a gathering of Taliban figures in Pakistan. He said the incident took place in the home of Mullah Abdullah Sarhadi, a former Taliban official, and that six Taliban figures, including Sarhadi, were killed.
"I am safe and my colleagues are safe. I am among my colleagues," Mansoor said, adding that he had not wanted to release the audio recording but was convinced to do so by his aides.
The Afghan government's announcement last summer that Mullah Omar had died nearly two years earlier in Pakistan derailed nascent peace talks between Kabul and the Taliban that had been brokered by Islamabad.
In the recording, Mansoor insisted the Taliban would continue fighting until they established "Islamic government" in Afghanistan and would resist outside pressure to reach a political settlement.
The Taliban ruled Afghanistan according to a harsh interpretation of Islamic law until the group was toppled by a U.S.-led invasion following the Sept. 11 attacks.
Mansoor established the timing of the recording by referring to a battle between Afghan forces and the Taliban in Wardak province on Friday which killed a number of civilians. He expressed condolences to those killed and wished a swift recovery for civilians who were wounded.