KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) — A senior figure in the Afghan Taliban said on Tuesday that a brother and son of their late founder, the one-eyed Mullah Mohammad Omar, have been appointed to leadership positions in the insurgency.
Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob, Mullah Omar's son, was recently named to lead the Taliban military commission for 15 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces, according to Mullah Gul Rahman Saleem, a member of the Taliban's ruling council.
Mullah Omar's brother, Mullah Abdul Manan, has been appointed head of religious affairs, Saleem told The Associated Press.
The move consolidates the positions of both men as the new head of the Taliban, Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, seeks loyalty from dissidents to shore up his own position.
"The Taliban leadership agreed some time ago that these positions should be filled by Mullah Omar's family members, and that decision has been formalized in a meeting by the leadership" on Friday said Saleem. He said the appointments were made in January, but followers were not informed until Monday, after the leadership council confirmed the decision.
Yaqoob and Manan had opposed Mansoor's ascension after it was revealed last summer that Mullah Omar had died more than two years earlier. As Mullah Omar's deputy, Mansoor had acted in his name after his death, and suffered a serious dip in trust from both Taliban commanders and rank and file fighters after the Kabul government made the death public.
Another prominent figure in the militant group, Abdul Qayum Zakir, who had also opposed the new leadership, last month pledged his allegiance to Mansoor. Zakir had earlier held the post of military commissioner, as well as other positions when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001, and after the group fled into exile in Pakistan following the 2001 U.S. invasion.
Mansoor made a public plea last month for unity, acknowledging disaffection among fighters who have wearied of 15 years of war with little progress toward the goal of toppling the Kabul government.
Since taking over, Mansoor has escalated the war, spreading it to every corner of the country and even taking control of a major northern city, Kunduz, for a few days last year. Mansoor is believed to control the bulk of smuggling routes in the southern provinces, notably Helmand where most of the world's opium is produced. Fighting in Helmand has been fierce for months, as he seeks to drive out rival smugglers among Taliban commanders.
Mansoor has also refused to participate in attempts to revive a peace dialogue, dashing Kabul's hopes that a face-to-face meeting between their respective representatives would take place last month.
Afghan officials are hoping that the decision of a long-term ally of the Taliban, warlord Hekmatyar Gulbuddin, to seek an unconditional peace treaty with Kabul will influence the Taliban to join the peace process.
O'Donnell reported from Kabul, Afghanistan. Associated Press writer Rahim Faiez in Kabul contributed to this story.