Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
May 26, 2016
RFE/RL has obtained video footage that purportedly shows a group of Taliban commanders pledging loyalty to the newly named Afghan Taliban leader, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada.
The video shows a group of turbaned and bearded men declaring allegiance to Akhundzada and expressing their agreement with his appointment as the replacement for Mullah Akhtar Mansur, who was killed by a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan on May 21.
One of the men says: “In the ways of the Prophet, in happiness and in trouble, whether we like it or not, and in the name of the Koran, and in the belief of Ahl as-Sunnah Wal Jamaat (eds: Sunni Islam), we show allegiance to our new leader of the faithful, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada.”
The rest of the men then express their agreement.
Akhundzada is not believed to appear in the video.
Experts who have reviewed the footage told RFE/RL it appears to show part of a process in which oaths of allegiance to a new Taliban leader are made across different areas without the new leader’s presence.
Under that process, a group of senior Taliban leaders meet personally with a new Taliban chief and take his hand while swearing their allegiance to him.
Each of those men then travels to different areas and takes the hands of mid-level commanders who also swear the oath of allegiance.
The experts who have seen the video say it appears to show one senior Taliban member holding the hands of mid-level commanders as they swear their allegiance to Akhundzada.
It was not clear where or when the video footage was shot, and there was no immediate independent confirmation of the video’s authenticity.
But the declaration heard in the video matches a statement issued on May 26 by a Taliban spokesman who said a group of Taliban commanders had declared their loyalty to Akhundzada.
The appearance of the video comes shortly after a Taliban splinter group headed by Mullah Mohammad Rasul announced that it had rejected Akhundzada as the new Taliban leader.
In a statement quoted by the Afghan news agency Pajhwok on May 26, Rasul’s faction said that “after the death of Mullah Mansur, we called on all Taliban not to repeat past mistakes [and to] appoint a new leader with complete consensus.”
Rasul’s group was one of several Taliban factions that had opposed Mansur’s appointment after news of the death of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar surfaced in the summer of 2015.
Rasul also has said he backs Islamic State and Al-Qaeda militants, but only if they stay out of Afghanistan.
With reporting by Pajhwok and dpa