Kabul: The new leader of the Afghan Taliban boasted on Friday that the group's three-day occupation of the northern city of Kunduz was a "symbolic victory" demonstrating the insurgents' strength, even as his fighters were fleeing under fire from Afghan government troops.
The Taliban takeover of Kunduz was an embarrassing blow to the government of President Ashraf Ghani, which was trying to determine how a force of several hundred insurgents were able to cause the collapse of several thousand troops defending the city.
Still, in the end, the Taliban were unable to hold their ground as the Afghan military rallied in a counterattack, a sign of how the insurgents lack the manpower or firepower to carry out much more than short-term sorties into large urban areas.
The dramatic Taliban assault on Kunduz, a city of some 300,000 and the boasts of Mullah Akhtar Mansoor appeared aimed in part at boosting Mansoor's legitimacy as leader in the face of opponents within the movement.
He was formally elevated to the post in August, after the Afghan government revealed that longtime Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar had died two years earlier.
His appointment caused a large public rift in the Taliban, whose leadership is said to be based in neighbouring Pakistan, when Mullah Omar's family objected to him as leader.
Though they later rallied behind Mansoor, some factions are yet to be convinced. The takeover of Kunduz was reportedly run by one of Mansoor's own appointees, Mullah Abdul Salam, which could help shore up his legitimacy. Mansoor spoke to the AP by telephone from an unknown location.
"The victory is a symbolic victory for us," he said.
"Moreover, it is also a historical event which will be remembered."
"People who said we were a small force with an unchosen leader can now see how wrong they were about the potential and strength my people have," he said.