The Taliban ("the Seekers" or "Students") 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.
Despite their efforts at myth making, the Taliban’s rise to power in Afghanistan had little to do with the grace of Allah as they claimed. From its inception, the movement appeared to rely on the financial backing of an unholy alliance of drug smugglers, traders, and trucking groups.
The name as rendered on the Ttazkira, the official afghan identity card, is rarely known, and may never be relevant for identification purposes. The names as commonly known may not correlate to the individual's tazkira name.
The growth of the Pakistani Taliban's influence since 2006 created the false impression of a strong and unified cross-border movement. The movement claimed loyalty to Mullah Omar, and supports his campaign to expel foreign forces from Afghanistan and reestablish the Taliban's "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan". However, closer examination reveals that the Pakistani Taliban was a collection of disparate groups that were heavily divided along regional and tribal lines.
As of February 2010, mullah Omar, Mullah Sarajedin, and Mullah Abdulghaim (aka Berader) split the Taliban organization in Quetta, Pakistan into three separate factions with Mullah Abdulghaim in Karachi, Pakistan, Mullah Sarajedin in Miranshah, Pakistan, and Mullah Omar remained in Quetta, Pakistan.. Of the Taliban in Quetta, Mullah Omar, Mullah Sarajedin, son of Mullah Jalaladin Haqqani, and member of Hezb-e Islami Khalis, and Mullah Abdulghaim, also known as Mullah Radfr, ran the Taliban organization from Quetta, Pakistan.
In early February 2010, Mullah Berader and Mullah Sarajedin decided to stop fighting under the banner of Mullah Omar and physically moved their Taliban offices from Quetta, Pakistan. This decision was reached because Mullah Omar had a larger share of support from Pakistan and other various unidentified Arab countries. Mullah Berader and Mullah Sarajedin believed they should be entitled to more support in order to conduct unidentified operations. Mullah Berader moved his Taliban offices to Karachi, Pakistan and Mullah Sarajedin relocated his office to Miranshah located on the Afghanistan/Pakistan border.
In late September 2010, the Taliban Quetta Shura was held. The Shura was attended by Gul Agha, who brought messages from Mullah 0mar. Also in attendance were Haji mullah Mohammed Rahim, the Taliban governor in Helmand province, Afghanistan; Mohibullah Akhundzada, the Taliban governor of Kandahar province, Afghanistan; Mullah Abdul Qaheer, the Taliban governor of Uruzgan province, Afghanistan; Mullah Razaq, the Taliban governor of Zabul province, Afghanistan; and Mullah Naqibullah, the Taliban commander from the Khakrez district, Kandahar province, Afghanistan. Mullah Omar established a new 10-member council. The purpose of the council was to act as a consulate for Mullah Omar, and to consider any messages Mullah Omar passed to the Shura.
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 was 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.
While nearly every other faction across the spectrum had suffered splits and realignments, the Taliban leadership remained remarkably unified and consistent in membership throughout the various iterations of war during the last two decades. By late 2012, however, this leadership had shown the first signs of sustained internal divisions: certain commanders were dismissed from the insurgents’ top brass, spats erupted between leading figures, and a growing number of field commanders were contravening the orders of their superiors. In the process, a political struggle between blocs favoring and opposing talks with the United States emerged.
Amid major setbacks and the loss of several senior leaders in Pakistan resulting from aggressive US counterterrorism efforts, al Qaeda’s involvement in the Afghanistan insurgency was constrained. As al Qaeda had 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 varied, 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 remained 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 was 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 continued 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 were 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.
Although US and NATO officials have traditionally been tight-lipped about the guerrilla’s numerical strength, a defense attaché from a country with troops in Afghanistan said in 2014 that intelligence estimates put the number of active fighters and auxiliaries at about 30,000 — about the same as before the 2009 surge.
There were reports in 2014 that Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar had possibly died, amid reports that the group has divided into three different parts. The Afghan Intelligence – National Directorate of Security (NDS) said 19 November 2014 that Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansoor had initiated appointment of his friends as group’s top figures. Hasib Sediqi, spokesman for the National Directorate of Security (NDS) told reporters that senior Taliban figures have divided into three groups had major differences among them.
While the Quetta Shura — the Pakistan-based leadership under Mullah Omar — was considered the Taliban’s central decision-making body, the group is so splintered that it’s unclear how much command and control any one faction has.
The Taliban, under the heading the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, continue to speak as the rulers of the entire country who will not compromise that dominance, in a recent statement declared they have inflicted "ignominious defeat" on the United States.
On 30 July 2015 the Taliban formally confirmed the death of the group's founder, Mullah Omar. on 30 July 2015 Afghan government officials said Wednesday that reclusive Taliban chief Mullah Omar was dead, and that he died more than two years earlier in Pakistan.
On July 31, 2015 the Afghan Taliban announced that its 'shura' or supreme council had chosen Mullah Akhtar Mansoor as the new chief of the Afghan insurgent group, a day after confirming reports of the death of its founder, Mullah Omar. The new leader, Mullah Akhtar Mansoor served as deputy to Mullah Omar and was the head of the Taliban's political and military affairs. Mullah Mansur, believed to be in his 50s, hails from the southern province of Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban. He served as civil aviation minister in the Taliban regime that ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001.
The Leading Council of the Islamic Emirate said "Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansoor, who was considered a reliable and suitable person for shouldering huge tasks even in the lifetime of late Mullah Mohammad Umar Mujahid (may his soul rest in peace) and had been practically administrating the Islamic Emirate since long; therefore, the leading council of the Islamic Emirate and authentic scholars judged him a suitable and talented personality for the new leadership of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and appointed him as their legalized leader.
"In this meeting of leadership appointment, scholars, saints and dignitaries of the Islamic Emirate took an oath of allegiance to Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansoor as Amir-ul-Momineen in accordance with the principal of listening and obedience. He, as a legal Amir, pledged his commitment to the Sharia Law too."
In being named as the new head of the Taliban, Mullah Akhtar Mansur, one of the founders of the movement, was granted the title of Amir-ul-Momineen (Commander of the Faithful). This gave him the same supreme status held by his predecessor, Mullah Mohammad Omar.
The announcement also said that Maulvi Haibatullah Akundzada and Maulvi Sirajuddin Haqqani had been appointed as deputies to Mansoor. Sirajuddin Haqqani had long headed the so-called Haqqani network, a militant group aligned with the Taliban and based in North Waziristan, one of Pakistan’s tribal regions along the Afghan border. The network has been blamed for many of the deadliest attacks against coalition forces and the Afghan government during the war. Taliban sources identified Maulvi Haibatullah Akhunzada as the former head of courts during the Taliban's rule in Afghanistan before 2001.
A member of the Ishaqzai tribe, Mansoor participated in the U.S.-backed Afghan insurgency, widely known as Afghan jihad, against the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan between 1979 and 1989. Later, he participated in the Islamist armed struggle against the Communist regime of Dr. Najibullah that was installed in Kabul after Moscow’s military departure in 1989. Mansoor joined the Taliban when the hardline Islamist movement, led by its founder Mullah Omar, emerged during the bloody power struggle among various Afghan factions following after the collapse of the Najibullah government in 1992.
Afghans with knowledge of Mansoor’s years with the Taliban describe him as a low-level administrator who mostly dealt with organizational matters and was not among the top 10 Taliban leaders at the time. He briefly served as director general of the Kandahar airport and enjoyed the status of a minister for civil aviation till the end of the Taliban regime in late 2001.
After the Taliban was driven from Afghanistan and the group launched its counteroffensive, Mansoor was declared the group’s shadow governor of Kandahar and was a member of the Taliban’s leadership council. Omar appointed Mansoor as his deputy and acting head of the shura or leadership council after his predecessor, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, was captured in Pakistan by the neighboring country’s spy agency in early 2010 with the help of the CIA. Baradar, a co-founder of the Afghan Taliban movement, was released in September of 2013 at the request of the then Kabul government.
The top official in the Afghan government delegation involved in the peace talks with the Taliban, Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai, has said that the Taliban delegation at the first round of talks had the backing of Mansoor. Sources in Pakistan also assert that Mansoor is the driving force behind the nascent Afghan peace process.
Taliban commander Mullah Mansour is not to be confused with Mullah Bakht Mohammad (alias Mullah Mansour Dadullah), a popular military commander. Akhtar Mohammad Mansoor, a logistics expert, was head of the Taliban’s senior shura council and a reputed pragmatist. Other senior pragmatists included Shahabuddin Delawar and Noorudin Turabi, who was released by Pakistan in December 2012. Some experts believed that these figures blame their past association with Al Qaeda for their loss of power. The pragmatists faced debate from younger and reputedly hardline, anti-compromise leaders who believed outright Taliban victory was possible. Some factions favor Mullah Yaqoub, the eldest son of Mullah Omar.
Omar’s 26-year-old son, Yaqoob, and other hardliners oppose the peace talks. They also opposed the decision of Omar’s deputy Mullah Akhtar who wanted to send a delegation to direct peace talks on 07 July 2015. The emergence of actual negotiations placed enormous strain on the Taliban and widened a dangerous rift inside the group.
With Islamic State and other jihadist groups competing for the loyalty of young Taliban fighters, it was unclear whether any leader can hold the Taliban movement together and then get its members to accept a peace settlement. The nightmare is if nobody respected the leadership anymore in the Taliban, because then there is no one to talk to.
The Taliban Supreme Council (Shura Council) was not consulted before the appointment of the new leader Mullah Mohammed Akhtar Mansoor, a move that could impact on the peace talks with the Afghan government, Al Jazeera has learned. Mullah Abdul Manan Niazi, a senior member of the Supreme Council, told Al Jazeera on 31 July 2015 that Mullah Mansoor was appointed after a brief discussion with four to five senior Taliban commanders without consulting the Supreme Council members. "This decision was taken without our consent. Our Mujahideen have sacrificed their blood for two decades. We have to appoint someone who has a proper knowledge and hold on Sharia and our Afghan values. Mullah Akhtar Mansoor did not even contribute much to our movement," Mullah Niazi said.
Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir, a member of Leadership Council of Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the name the group refers to itself, released a statement 31 July 2015 denying claims of disagreements and conflict on the decision. "I have heard that Mullah Muhammad Hassan Rahmani, Mullah Abdul Razzaq, Mullah Muhammad Rasul and other individuals have claimed in radios and some gatherings that Mullah Abdul Qayyum is in conflict with Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansoor Sahib," Zakir said in a statement published on the group's official website. "These claims are absolutely baseless. I reassure you all that I will exert my complete efforts in working for the Islamic Emirate and hope from Allah that I will be one of the most obedient individuals from it."
Mullah Zakir, a former chief military commander of the Taliban, had previously supported Mullah Yaqoub, the son of Mullah Omar, for the post. Mullah Yaqoub and Mullah Mansoor had been long rivals for control of the group.
On 04 August 2015 the head of the Afghan Taliban’s political office in Qatar resigned, and issued a highly critical statement that highlights growing internal schisms since the confirmation of the death of founder Mullah Mohammad Omar. In a statement released to the media, Tayyab Agha said there were “historic mistakes” made in keeping Mullah Omar’s death secret for nearly two years and in picking his successors outside of Afghanistan. Agha’s claim gave credence to the widespread perception that the Taliban’s new leader, Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, was selected with the backing of Pakistan. The statement also suggests that the group’s senior political representative was unaware of the Taliban leader’s death and had been actively deceived by those around Omar since he died two years ago.
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|