The Taliban ("the Seekers") was formed in September of 1994 in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar by a group of graduates of Pakistani Islamic colleges (madrassas) on the border with Afghanistan, run by the fundamentalist Jamiat-e-Ulema. The members of the Taleban Islamic Movement of Afghanistan (TIMA) are mostly Pashtuns from Kandahar in Southern Afghanistan and are led by a mullah (a village-level religious leader), Mohammad Omar. The Taleban advocated an 'Islamic Revolution' in Afghanistan, proclaiming that the unity of Afghanistan should be re-established in the framework of Sharia (Islamic law) and without the mujahedin. Their fighting ranks were mostly filled with former veterans of the war against Soviet forces.
By 2012 the Afghan insurgency was composed of a syndicate of semi-autonomous groups, including the Taliban, the Haqqani Network, and Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin. The insurgency is also supported by various transnational terrorist groups such as al Qaeda and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, as well as Pakistan-based militant groups such as Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan and the Commander Nazir Group. The primary actor within the insurgency is the Taliban, led by the Senior Shura [“Council”, a term with religious connotation] in Quetta, Pakistan, and the spiritual leader Mullah Omar. Overall, these groups maintain functional and symbolic relationships in pursuit of overlapping interests.
Amid major setbacks and the loss of several senior leaders in Pakistan resulting from aggressive U.S. counterterrorism efforts, al Qaeda’s involvement in the Afghanistan insurgency has been constrained. As al Qaeda has been degraded, it has become reliant on a shrinking cadre of experienced leaders primarily inside a Haqqani-facilitated safe haven in North Waziristan. Al Qaeda continues to seek safe haven in Afghanistan, and has a small presence in Kunar and Nuristan Provinces. The terrorist group continues to derive some benefits from its engagement in Afghanistan, including exploitation of incidents for propaganda, personnel recruitment, and tribal connections that it could use to re-establish future safe havens. Al Qaeda views continued involvement in Afghanistan as integral to its global image and relevance.
Although the specific area of operations for each group associated with the insurgency varies, the insurgency generally tends to operate along the border with Pakistan, primarily in the Pashtun-majority areas of southern and eastern Afghanistan, as well as in Pashtun communities in northern Afghanistan. The majority of insurgent commanders and fighters operate in or near their home districts, and low-level fighters are often well integrated into the local population. Out-of-area fighters comprise a relatively small portion of the insurgency.
Taliban senior leaders remain capable of providing strategic guidance to the broader insurgency and channeling resources to support operational priorities. Pakistan-based senior leaders exercise varying degrees of command and control over the generally decentralized and locally-based Afghan insurgency. Within Afghanistan, insurgent leadership structures vary by province. In general, a two-man team composed of a shadow governor and a military commander lead governance efforts and military operations at the provincial level, and also oversee district-level insurgent leadership and lower-level military commanders. Most shadow governors still reside in Pakistan.
To recruit, influence, and intimidate the Afghan populace, the insurgency uses a simple but effective messaging strategy. Capitalizing on the lack of basic services and government assistance at the village level, the insurgency encourages farmers to plant poppies as a means of closing the resource gap experienced by most rural Afghans. The insurgency also cultivates and exploits popular perceptions of the Afghan Government as corrupt, unresponsive, and uninterested in the plight of rural Afghans in order to recruit local Afghans to join the insurgency or to turn to shadow governments and courts to resolve issues.
The insurgency is funded from a variety of external sources, including Persian Gulf-based donors, state and non-state actors in Pakistan and Iran, and various transnational and criminal enterprises, but remains dependent on poppy cultivation and the narcotics trade as its primary source of revenue. Insurgents suspend operational efforts to provide labor for the poppy harvest, which typically begins in April and continues to June, as revenue from the poppy harvest is critical to insurgent operations throughout the year.
The insurgency also continues to receive critical support from neighboring Pakistan in the form of sanctuary, training infrastructure, and at times, financial and operational support. Pakistani sanctuaries bolster the efficacy of the insurgency – especially in areas where insurgents have access to direct or indirect Pakistani logistical and training support – and remain the most critical threat to the ISAF campaign in Afghanistan. The insurgency also receives materiel support from Iran, although to a lesser degree than from Pakistan.
Near-term insurgent operations are expected to focus on regaining control of safe havens and expanding influence over population centers in Helmand and Kandahar. Southern Afghanistan remains vital to the insurgency for its historical significance to the Taliban movement and its importance to the insurgency’s narcotics-related revenues. Kabul will remain a persistent target for high-profile attacks and assassinations in the Taliban’s effort to undermine public support for the Afghan Government and security forces. Additionally, the insurgency will likely continue to target the ANSF and local defense initiatives, including the Afghan Local Police (ALP) program. In the long term, despite initial overtures toward political cooperation with the Afghan Government and the international community, the Taliban retains its goal of overthrowing the elected Afghan Government following the withdrawal of international forces.
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