Afghan Taliban struggling with leadership feuds, other infighting

By Sulaiman


Afghan National Army soldiers December 11, 2014, near the remains of Taliban founder Mullah Mohammad Omar's house in Sangesar. The Taliban are embroiled in a crisis of leadership.[AFP/Roberto Schmidt]

KABUL -- Disagreements among the core leadership of the Afghan Taliban have intensified, threatening to unravel the group, well-informed sources told Salaam Times.

According to the sources, these intensifying conflicts have divided the Taliban's core leadership into three factions: a group led by Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, leader of the Afghan Taliban and its top leadership council, the so-called Quetta Shura; a group led by Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob, eldest son of Taliban founder Mullah Mohammad Omar and also a member of the Quetta Shura; and a group led by Sirajuddin Haqqani, leader of the Haqqani Network.

"The Quetta Shura is on the verge of dismantlement, and data show that a number of prominent members of the Taliban have already left," Afghan Ministry of Defence spokesman Gen. Mohammad Radmanesh told Salaam Times.

"In addition to internal conflicts and infighting, the Taliban face political, financial and military crises," he said. "As a result of this, all major plans that they had for 2016 failed."


Shown is Taliban Chief Justice Maulavi Abdul Hakim Monib's letter dated November 1, in which he urges the replacement of Taliban leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada. [Copy obtained by Sulaiman]

The Taliban's hopes of seizing eight provinces and 60 districts last year were crushed, Radmanesh said.

Taliban defeats on battlefield

In 2016, the Taliban announced they were going to start Operation Omari, their spring offensive, against the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF), said Zalmai Wardak, a Kabul-based consultant on military affairs.

"The Taliban, however, were visibly weak and divided on the battlefields," he told Salaam Times. "As a result, this major operation of the Taliban failed."

Moreover, infighting following the belatedly reported death of Mullah Omar contributed to the group's reverses on the battlefield, Wardak said. The Taliban failed to disclose Omar's death, which occurred in April 2013, for two years.

"Internal disputes led to bloody clashes between Taliban members in Farah and Herat provinces, as well as in Shinkay and Mizan districts of Zabul Province, [and] a large number of the Taliban were killed," Wardak said.

"As a result of these differences and conflicts, a group led by Mullah Rasul split from the ranks of the Taliban and declared war against the rest of the group," he said.

Mullah Muhammad Rasul is said to have had a close relationship with Mullah Omar before his death, but in 2015 Rasul split from the main Taliban group and formed his own movement, called the "High Council of Afghanistan Islamic Emirate".

Rasul's followers disagreed with the ascension of former Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansoor, who was killed in Pakistan in 2016. The group has expressed support for the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) and al-Qaeda and is suspected of being a client of Iran.

Calls for ouster of Haibatullah

Further evidence of the growing rift among Taliban factions came in a letter from Taliban Chief Justice Maulavi Abdul Hakim Monib. He addressed the November 1 Pashtu-language missive to Taliban militants.

Strife within the Taliban has eroded the movement's morale and outside reputation, Monib said in the letter, seen by Salaam Times.

Poor leadership and feuding caused supporters to halt aid to the Taliban, he said.

Haibatullah's incompetence has caused many problems and he should be fired, Monib argued.

"To restore the force and unity that the Islamic Emirate had in the times of Mullah Mohammad Omar and Mullah Akhtar [Muhammad] Mansoor ... we need to step forward as one and install a leadership that is acceptable to all," Monib wrote.

Deepening divisions, power struggles

Clearly, the differences among the Taliban run deep, said Mahmoud Farzan, a political analyst based in Kandahar.

"Once Haibatullah became the new leader of the Taliban, the group was hopeful that its disputes could be eliminated," he told Salaam Times. "Haibatullah, however, was a religious scholar without the slightest clue about politics and military affairs."

"The result was an even deeper division in the leadership ranks of the Taliban," he said. "Consequently, the Peshawar Shura and Haqqani Network lost trust in ... Haibatullah."

Inter-ethnic conflicts are yet another reason for the collapse of the Taliban movement, Farzan said, citing differences in the tribal composition of the Quetta and Peshawar shuras.

"The Peshawar Shura has been colluding with the Haqqani Network to snatch the leadership from the Quetta Shura," he said. "The Quetta Shura ... will never agree to give up its leadership position in the Taliban."

"Such disputes will eventually destroy the Taliban's 'Islamic Emirate'," he told Salaam Times.

"The Taliban suffered from serious internal conflicts following the demise of Mullah Omar and Mullah Akhtar [Muhammad] Mansoor," said Najib Danish, deputy spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry.

"These differences are becoming greater and deeper with each passing day," he told Salaam Times, citing "deadly infighting among various Taliban groups in Zabul, Uruzgan, Badghis, Herat and Faryab provinces".

'The end is near for the Taliban'

A major aspect of the Taliban's internal struggles is that Haibatullah "is not so powerful", said Zahir Saadat, a member of the Afghan parliament. This is the reason Mullah Yaqoob is trying to usurp the Taliban's leadership, he said.

"Sirajuddin Haqqani, on the other hand, considers himself the most powerful figure among the Taliban, although he is the group's deputy leader," Sadaat told Salaam Times.

"All these differences will lead to the Taliban's 'Islamic Emirate' falling into the vortex of its own internal conflicts," he said.

The Taliban's infighting benefits the Afghan government and people, and the government should take advantage of this chance to suppress the Taliban, he said.

Danish agreed, saying, "The splits and differences among the Taliban are in the interest of the ANDSF.

"The people of Afghanistan should be confident that the end is near for the Taliban," he said.

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