As an influential political and military entity recognized by all involved parties, the Taliban wants to achieve two long term goals: The complete withdrawal of all foreign troops from Afghanistan and the establishment of an inclusive Islamic government. Over the years the Taliban has continued to expand its zone of influence in Afghanistan and came to think of itself as the victor in the conflict. The group also managed to win the hearts and minds of a portion of the disenchanted rural population that views the central government as ineffective in providing them with basic services and is overwhelmingly drowned in endemic corruption.
Taliban is not seeking a monopoly on power in a future administration in Afghanistan but is looking for ways to co-exist with Afghan institutions, Shaheen Suhail, a spokesman for Afghan Taliban's political office in Qatar said on 30 January 2019. The remarks by Shaheen Suhail are the most conciliatory comments to date from the insurgent group. Suhail said that once US forces withdraw from Afghanistan, the Taliban members want to live with other Afghans, "tolerate one another and start life like brothers."
Estimates of the number of Taliban fighters range from 55,000 to 85,000 as of early 2020. Taliban facilitators and non-combatants could bring the total figure to 100,000. It is clear that the Taliban are not struggling with respect to recruitment, funding, weapons or ammunition. Control of 50 to 60 percent of Afghan territory was contested between the Taliban and government forces by early 2020. There were 21 districts currently reported to be under full Taliban control, down from between 25 and 30 districts in 2019. The continued goal of the Taliban over consecutive fighting seasons to capture and hold a provincial capital remains difficult for the group given the continued presence of international military close air support. The sudden or unexpected withdrawal of such support would endanger several provinces and leave them susceptible to falling to the Taliban.
The Taliban says its peace pact with the United States does not alter the status of the insurgent group’s supreme leader as the “lawful ruler” of Afghanistan, saying he is duty-bound by religion to establish an “Islamic government” after foreign “occupation” troops exit the country. The Taliban explained in a commentary 07 March 2020 that the departure of international troops alone would not serve the purpose of the insurgency, saying it is also seeking to keep “corrupt (Afghan) elements that supported the (foreign) invaders” from becoming a part of the future government. "Until the occupation is completely severed from its roots and an Islamic government formed, the mujahidin (insurgents) shall continue waging armed jihad and exerting efforts for the implementation of Islamic rule.”
In its submission for DoS’s Country Reports on Terrorism 2016, U.S. Embassy Kabul noted that Taliban control of substantial territory in less populated, rural areas of Afghanistan created “an environment of persistent insecurity.” In its November 2016 threat assessment, the Institute for the Study of War stated that the Afghan government remains highly dependent on current levels of U.S. support to sustain the ANDSF and maintain security in territory now controlled by the Afghan government. Further, the assessment reported that the ANDSF is “incapable of recapturing significant swaths of Taliban-secured territory” at the current levels of U.S. support. The assessment cautioned, “[t]he continued expansion of ungoverned spaces in Afghanistan allows global extremist networks like al Qaeda and ISIS [ISIL] and their allies to carve out sanctuaries from which to target the U.S. and its national security interests.”
Report for Landinfo [the Norwegian Country of Origin Information Centre], Antonio Giustozzi states that "The total manpower of the Taliban, including combatants and support elements, exceeds 200,000. The fighters are about 150,000, of whom around 60,000 are in fulltime, mobile units and the rest are local militias. The mobile units are mostly based in Pakistan and Iran and deploy to Afghanistan during the fighting season, in part for logistical reasons and also because many fighters have family in those countries. ... some forces are always kept in reserve, rarely if ever the number of full-time mobile Taliban deployed inside Afghanistan exceeds 40,000 at the peak of the fighting season.... The casualty rate of the Taliban is today significantly lower than at the peak of western intervention in Afghanistan in 2010-13..." Estimates given by US officials have risen from 20,000 fighters a few years ago to 60,000 in 2018.
To be declared a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the State Department, a foreign group must engage in terrorism and threaten the security of U.S. nationals or the national security of the United States. The Afghan Taliban meet both criteria. Yet political expedience has obligated keeping the group off the list. The deterring factor has long been a concern that applying the terror label to the group would restrict U.S. and Afghan government diplomatic contacts with the Taliban, making peace talks more difficult. But the Taliban is "an enabler of terrorists" with links to many terrorist organizations, including al-Qaida and the Haqqani network.
A 2002 executive order labeled the Taliban a "Specially Designated Global Terrorist Entity" and a 2008 Congressional law mandated that the Taliban be considered a terrorist organization for immigration purposes. While the Global Terrorist Entity sanctions are focused on financial transactions, a Foreign Terrorist Organization designation prohibits "material support," such as training, and carries greater weight.
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. By 2015 the US military estimated that more than half of the Taliban's income comes from poppies.
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 was 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 was 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 was 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.
By early 2016 three separate Taliban groups had emerged in northern Helmand, a known Taliban stronghold, and that all three factions are largely not loyal to Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour.
In May 2016 Afghan President Ashraf Ghani suggested the Taliban had become little more than a criminal enterprise. “The question is: Is the Mansoor group a drug cartel masquerading as a political organization? Or a political organization using a drug cartel as its means? You have to judge this question. It can no longer be avoided,” Ghani told an audience at the Royal United Services Institute think tank in London.
The Afghan intelligence agency confirmed 22 May 2016 that Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor was killed in a US airstrike in Pakistan near the Afghan border. There would be severe consequences if Sirajuddin Haqqani, considered one of the most dangerous warlords in the Middle East, beaome leader of the Taliban following the reported killing of Mullah Akhtar Mansour. Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob, the son of Taliban founder Mullah Omar, as well as Omar's brother, Mullah Abdul Manan, both of whom recently attained important positions within the movement, could also be in the running to lead the Taliban.
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