20 militants killed in Afghan Taliban infighting

Kabul: At least 20 Afghan Taliban militants were killed in Herat province as the differences have widened between supporters of Taliban leader Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada and commander of breakaway group Mawlawi Mohammad Rasoul Akhund, officials said. The clash, according to Herat Governor Jilani Farhad, flared up in Adraskan and Pashtun Zarghon districts between Sunday and Tuesday, during which around two dozen fighters were killed and several others injured, Xinhua news agency reported. Preliminary reports suggested that up to nine fighters loyal to Akhundzada and 11 from the opponent faction were killed. The clash, according to the official, flared up between Mullah Asmatullah, the commander of Taliban's main faction led by Akhundzada, and commander Abdul Manan Niazi, a Mullah Rasoul loyalist, in Abgarmak area of Adraskan district and soon covered parts of the neighbouring Pashtun Zarghon district. Civilians have also suffered loss of life and property during the infighting between the rival groups, both the officials and locals said. Although Taliban militants are tightlipped on the report, locals have confirmed the bloody infighting between the groups and called on the government to check the incidents which often harm civilians. "Usually we are the victims of infighting. Taliban forcibly collect 10 per cent of our agricultural products from us as tax to support their fighters," a resident of Pashtun Zarghon district said. In the wake of confirmation of the death of Mullah Mohammad Omar, the founder of Taliban, last July and Mullah Akthar Mansour assuming Taliban leadership last August, the armed outfit has divided into two factions and the splinter group leader Mawlawi Mohammad Rasoul Akhund has begun fighting Mansour's men. Mansour was killed in a US drone attack last month near Quetta, Balochistan, in Pakistan and his successor Akhundzada has failed to unite the Taliban fighters. More than 200 fighters, including senior commanders from both sides, according to officials, were killed in the infightings in Herat, Farah, Zabul and other parts of the country over the past three months.