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Taliban leader's death delays peace talks

ISLAMABAD - Pakistani officials told CBS News on Thursday that the Taliban in Afghanistan has chosen a new leader to replace Mullah Mohammed Omar, the group's long-time figurehead whose death was confirmed a day earlier by the Afghan government and subsequently confirmed by the Taliban itself on Thursday.

Two senior Pakistani officials confirmed to CBS News that the Taliban's ruling "Shura Council" had elected Mullah Akhtar Mansor to head the group.

"Mullah Akhtar Mansor, who has served as Mullah Omar's deputy, is now the new leader of Afghanistan's Taliban" a senior Pakistani intelligence official told CBS News. The second official who confirmed Mansor's appointment was from Pakistan's Interior Ministry.

Taliban Leader Dead

A tribal leader from Pakistan's Baluchistan province, who maintains close ties to a number of Taliban commanders, also confirmed Mansor's appointment. All three sources spoke to CBS News on the condition of anonymity.

Word of Omar's replacement came as Pakistan announced the postponement of the second round of talks between representatives of the Taliban and the Afghan government, which had been slated to take place in Pakistan on Friday.

A statement from Pakistan's Foreign Ministry said the talks were being postponed at the Taliban's request. Without setting a new date, the statement said the delay was due to "uncertainty" caused by the announcement of Mullah Omar's death.

Western diplomats said the delay could be an indication of internal challenges to Mansor's leadership role, and the Taliban inner circle's desire to give the new leader time to cement his position.

Omar had not been sighted for almost a decade, but news of his death prompted rumors of an internal power struggle. As CBS News reported Wednesday, Omar's eldest son had also been considered a possible successor, and some members of the Shura reportedly favored him over Mansor.

The Pakistani intelligence official who spoke to CBS News said Mansor had a reputation as a ruthless commander on the battlefield, but that he was expected to be more flexible in pursuing negotiations than his predecessor.

"Mullah Omar was a very rigid man who would not see reason" said the official, citing Omar's refusal in 2001 to hand Osama bin Laden over to the United States after the Sept. 11 terror attacks in Washington and New York. "Mullah Omar's decision then was seen by many people as suicidal. I don't believe Mullah Mansor would make such a choice."