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Powerful relatives of deceased Taliban leader Mullah Omar will support to the group's new chief, the organization announced Wednesday, raising the specter of a more unified and dangerous militancy in the region.
"The esteemed family of the founder of the Islamic Emirate ... Mullah Mohammad Omar Mujahid pledged their allegiance to the new Islamic Emirate leader Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansoor at a grand gathering on Tuesday," according to a statement sent to journalists.
While the Taliban's public statements are notoriously unreliable, two commanders who spoke to NBC News confirmed the announcement.
"It’s a huge success for Mullah Mansoor," a senior member of the Afghan Taliban told NBC News on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
The announcement in July that Mansoor, the Taliban's former aviation minister, would succeed longtime leader Mullah Omar — who, it later emerged, had been dead for two years — provoked a leadership battle.
A group led by Omar's younger brother Mullah Abdul Manan had alleged that Mansoor had essentially appointed himself head of the militant group without winning the support from the movement's religious leaders and key commanders.
Omar's family wanted any successor be from within his clan. Omar's son, Maulvi Mohammad Yaqoob, was the leading contender of this faction, commanders have told NBC News.
The move would help unify the group and create a more effective fighting force, and help defend it against incursions by ISIS, military analyst and retired Afghan general Atiqullah Amarkhil told NBC News.
"For Taliban as an organization this is a major breakthrough, it will strengthen their position and unite their ranks," he said.
It would also make it a more reliable negotiating partner with the government, which is trying to end the nearly 15-year insurgency, Amarkhil added.