KANDAHAR, Afghanistan – A man identified on tape as the Taliban’s new top field commander warned Wednesday that new recruits were volunteering as suicide bombers and that fighters would continue their holy war until Western powers leave Afghanistan.
Violence struck throughout the country with two bomb blasts that killed four people, including a Finnish soldier in the usually quiet north. NATO said it attacked a meeting of Taliban leaders in the south, killing an unspecified number of militants.
Shuhabuddin Athul, a Taliban spokesman, played an audio tape over the telephone to an Associated Press reporter that Athul said was a recording of Dadullah Mansoor, brother and replacement of Mullah Dadullah, the top Taliban commander shot to death in a U.S. operation this month in southern Afghanistan.
The man on the tape said Taliban fighters were ready to avenge his brother’s death and would “pursue holy war until the occupying countries leave.”
“They will pursue their attacks against occupying countries and the (Afghan) government,” he said in a first public statement. “The number of suicide attackers is increasing. … All of the Taliban, we are ready to carry out suicide attacks, roadside bombs and ambushes against the Americans and the government.”
There was no way to verify that the voice was really Mansoor’s.
Mullah Dadullah, a one-legged veteran who orchestrated an intensifying campaign of suicide attacks and beheadings, had long been a top lieutenant of Taliban leader Mullah Omar. Al-Qaida’s No. 2 leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, hailed Mullah Dadullah in a videotape released Tuesday.
Athul has said that Mansoor was one of five prisoners released in March in exchange for kidnapped Italian journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo. He was named as Mullah Dadullah’s replacement last week, Athul said.
In a sign that the insurgency could be spreading, a bomb blast killed a Finnish soldier and an Afghan civilian in the northern town of Maymana, 100 yards outside a Norwegian-led base. Four Norwegian soldiers were slightly wounded.
The soldiers had been on their way to a hospital for the opening of a reconstruction project, said Lt. Col. John Inge Oeglaend, a Norwegian military spokesman.
Northern Afghanistan is relatively calm, compared with the south and east, but it has seen a run of attacks in recent weeks. A suicide bomber Saturday killed 10 people in the northern city of Kunduz, including three German soldiers who were walking through a market.
“No parts of Afghanistan are safe, but the north has normally been quieter,” Oeglaend said. “But this is one of the threats we have been prepared for and have been aware of for a long time.”