The Afghanistan president’s office said Wednesday that intelligence has confirmed that reclusive Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar is dead.
A statement from the presidential palace in Kabul said that, "based on credible information," the Taliban leader died in April 2013 in Pakistan.
Amid concern over how a transfer of leadership in the Taliban could affect fragile peace negotiations underway in Afghanistan, the president's office added that the government believed "grounds for the Afghan peace talks are more paved now than before."
Omar, the one-eyed, secretive head of the Taliban and an Al-Qaeda ally, led a bloody insurgency against U.S.-led forces after they toppled him from rule in Afghanistan in 2001. He has not been seen in public since fleeing to Pakistan during the invasion.
Abdul Hassib Seddiqi, the spokesman for Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security, said Omar died in a hospital in Karachi, Pakistan, in April 2013. "We confirm officially that he is dead," he told The Associated Press.
It was not immediately clear why his death was being announced only now. The Taliban could not be immediately reached for comment. The Taliban website published statements attributed to Omar as recently as five days ago.
Spokesman John Kirby said the U.S. State Department could not immediately confirm Omar’s death, but White House spokesman Eric Schultz said the Afghan intelligence reports are credible. He added that the U.S. intelligence community is looking into circumstances surrounding Omar's death.
"He was very sick in a Karachi hospital and died suspiciously there," Seddiqi said, without elaborating.
Earlier, Zafar Hashemi, the deputy spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, said the government was investigating reports that the Taliban leader was dead. Ending Afghanistan’s war with the Taliban has been a main priority for Ghani since he took office last year.
The comments on Omar’s reported death came as preparations were underway for peace talks between Kabul and the Taliban, provisionally planned for Thursday or Friday at a location yet to be confirmed.
The apparent death of Omar could deepen divisions within the movement as rival commanders position to succeed him, in a possible setback for the fledgling peace process.
The Taliban is already split between senior figures who support talks with Kabul to end the 13-year war, and others who want to continue to fight for power.
A senior Afghan Taliban commander based in neighboring Pakistan said Omar died of natural causes, but the commander did not specify when. "We are at a crossroads, and it will take some time to resolve this (leadership) issue," he said.
He added that a group in the Taliban wants one of Omar's sons to take over, while another favors the promotion of political leader Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, who has been among those who support peace talks.
Al Jazeera and wire services
The Taliban could not be immediately reached for comment. The Taliban's official website has released statements under Omar's name as recently as five days ago.