|Taking It to the Taliban
Two days before launching the most ambitious military campaign of the Obama Administration, General Stanley McChrystal, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, convened a meeting in Kabul of 450 tribal elders and scholars from Helmand province. The general's objective: to build support for Operation Moshtarak, a massive offensive on the Taliban stronghold of Marjah. McChrystal ran through the military phase of the plan, which would involve 6,000 U.S. Marines and British soldiers and 4,500 Afghan troops and police. Then he described how these troops would protect the town while a "government in a box" — a corps of Afghan officials who had been training for this moment for months — would start administering the town. The elders all signed off on the plan, but not before one of them warned the American general, "You have to understand that if you don't do what you say, we'll all be killed."
McChrystal repeated the chieftain's words Feb. 18 in a secure video teleconference with President Barack Obama and his top advisers on Afghanistan and Pakistan. By then, the operation, by all accounts, was going well. NATO troops had encountered only sporadic resistance; much of the town was under the control of the U.S. Marines. British-led forces, meanwhile, had taken the nearby community of Showal. Some government in a box was already being unpacked.
There was good news from other fronts too. In Pakistan, a joint operation in Karachi by the CIA and Pakistan's own spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), had netted a very big fish: Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Afghan Taliban's military chief. In quick succession, the ISI had also rolled up two of the Taliban's "shadow" governors of Afghanistan's provinces and another senior figure. And in North Waziristan, near Pakistan's border with Afghanistan, a missile launched from a CIA drone had struck at the heart of the Haqqani network, an al-Qaeda-affiliated group responsible for countless attacks on NATO troops. The network's current leader, Sirajuddin Haqqani, survived, but his younger brother Mohammed had been killed.
After a year of mostly grim tidings from Afghanistan and Pakistan, Obama could have been allowed a moment of satisfaction. But McChrystal's recounting of the Helmand chieftain's warning ensured that the mood in the White House's Situation Room during the conference call was somber. According to National Security Adviser Jim Jones, who was there, Obama added an exhortation of his own, using the idioms of counterinsurgency warfare. "Do not clear and hold what you are not willing to build and transfer," he told McChrystal, a maxim he had repeated often over the previous months. "You've heard me say it many times, but it bears repeating," Obama said as he signed off.
That sense of restraint is at the heart of Obama's "AfPak" strategy, which requires McChrystal's troops to help Afghans build and take increasing responsibility for their country, rather than depending solely on Western forces to thump the Taliban. Marjah is the first real test of that plan, and the Administration is determined to keep everyone's expectations to the bare minimum. That is wise, as much could still go wrong. The Taliban could return to areas from which it has been ousted; the Afghan army could turn out to be too slim a reed on which to hang the Administration's ambitions. And so, in contrast to the Bush Administration, which was often accused of overstating small successes, the Obama White House has projected a studied solemnity over encouraging dispatches from the war the President has made his own. Every sign of progress in Afghanistan and Pakistan has been greeted with circumspection. Yes, say Administration officials in Washington and commanders in the field, things are going well — but let's not beat our chests. Far too much hangs in the balance now: Afghan lives, American lives and, just possibly, the fate of Obama's war.
Making Marjah Count
A town of 60,000 souls, Marjah is ringed by poppy fields that are watered by irrigation canals built in the 1950s and '60s by U.S. engineers. McChrystal chose this location to launch the reconquest of Afghanistan because it is the western end of a population belt that extends from central Helmand province through Kandahar province — both infested with the Taliban. McChrystal has set out to secure that belt, starting in Marjah, then moving to Lashkar Gah, Kandahar city and finally Spin Boldak. "It's where we hadn't been, it's where the enemy still was, and it's where the population is," says a senior Administration official.
Since it's an opening salvo in what promises to be a long, hard-fought year, McChrystal knew Operation Moshtarak would influence perceptions, among allies and enemies alike, about how the war would be fought — and how the peace would be waged. Managing those perceptions would be key to victory. "This is not a physical war, in terms of how many people we kill or how much ground you capture, how many bridges you blow up," he told reporters in Istanbul on Feb. 4. "This is all in the minds of the participants. The Afghan people are the most important, but the insurgents are [too]. And of course, part of what we've had to do is convince ourselves and our Afghan partners that we can do this."
The offensive was months in the planning, and little effort was made to keep it secret. If the Taliban chose to melt away rather than resist, McChrystal reasoned, it would give him more time to set up a robust administration — a good advertisement for those in other towns where NATO troops would soon have to fight. U.S. commanders even ordered an opinion poll of Marjah residents: they wanted to know how they felt about the U.S. and the Taliban and to gauge what they might want from his government in a box.
When the operation got under way, it quickly became clear that only about 400 Taliban had dug in to fight. As in other such encounters between an overwhelming Western military and a local insurgency — in Iraq's Diyala province, for instance — the greatest threat to the troops came from roadside bombs and sniper fire. By Feb. 23, 13 NATO troops had been killed, as the U.S. total in the Afghan war pushed past 1,000. Estimates of Taliban casualties were around 120. Civilian casualties were low for such an intense offensive: 28 were killed in the fighting, though as the operation progressed, there was some bad news when a pair of air strikes, one near Marjah, killed 39 civilians.
As pockets of resistance continued, commanders downplayed expectations of a speedy campaign. "I guess it will take us another 25 to 30 days to be entirely sure that we have secured that which needs to be secured," British Major General Nick Carter, the top NATO commander in southern Afghanistan, told reporters on Feb. 18. "And we probably won't know for about 120 days whether or not the population is entirely convinced by the degree of commitment that their government is showing to them." If McChrystal's forces prevail, Operation Moshtarak will serve as the template for the far more challenging battle this summer, the battle for Kandahar. With nearly 500,000 people, it is the Taliban's spiritual capital. The city is nominally under NATO control, but there are reportedly thousands of Taliban in and around it — and every expectation that many will make a bloody stand.
The Pakistani Play
Under normal circumstances, in planning his offensive McChrystal would have had to keep a close watch on Afghanistan's difficult neighbor. Pakistan's support for the Taliban and the Haqqani network has frequently bedeviled U.S. military plans, as Afghan fighters have too easily slipped across the border and found sanctuary. But a year's worth of diplomatic pressure on Islamabad began to pay off before Operation Moshtarak: Pakistan launched a major military offensive of its own in South Waziristan, not against the Afghan Taliban but against its Pakistani cousins known as the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan or TTP.
The Pakistani change of heart had been a long time coming. It was influenced by the TTP's bloody campaign of suicide attacks in Pakistani cities, often targeting military and ISI compounds. "I can remember anecdotally where we had questions for our team in Pakistan at one point and they couldn't get a hold of their ISI counterparts because they were too busy attending funerals of their key leadership," says a U.S. counterterrorism official. This, along with the militants' brazen capture of a town some 40 miles (65 km) from the Pakistani capital last spring, did more than any American finger-wagging to convince Islamabad that the TTP needed to be taken down. The U.S. helped by mounting drone strikes on TTP leaders, killing its founder, Baitullah Mehsud, last summer and possibly his successor, Hakimullah Mehsud, in January.
Even so, Pakistani cooperation in the arrest of Baradar, on the eve of the Marjah assault, was an unexpected bonus for McChrystal. Why did Pakistan roll up Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar's deputy? Islamabad has previously arrested senior figures in the Afghan Taliban, but they've typically been released quickly, without U.S. officials being given access to them. But the Pakistanis made an exception with Baradar, who may have a treasure trove of information on the Taliban. Possibly the Pakistanis were under pressure to reciprocate for the U.S. strikes on the Mehsuds. Or perhaps Baradar had fallen out with Omar and was trying to open a direct channel for peace talks to the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, bypassing his hosts. By taking Baradar out of circulation, Pakistan may be making a case to be given a seat in eventual peace negotiations.
Whatever the reason, his arrest doesn't represent a sea change in Pakistan's attitude toward its longtime clients in the Afghan Taliban, say White House officials with responsibility for Pakistan and Afghanistan. While Washington views the TTP, the Haqqani network, al-Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban as all part of the same terrorist syndicate, Islamabad is concerned mainly about the TTP's legions of suicide bombers. Nor is the effect of Baradar's arrest on the top Taliban leadership yet clear. If he had indeed broken with Omar, then the group has most likely replaced him already. The Taliban was able to shake off the 2007 killing of its top commander, Mullah Dadullah, by NATO forces. "The Taliban are used to this," says Waheed Muzhda, a former Taliban official. "When Mullah Dadullah was killed, some people thought that the Taliban would give up. But it didn't happen, because the Taliban are waging an ideological war, and in an ideological war, this kind of thing doesn't have a big impact."
Another bonus for McChrystal: in Operation Moshtarak, he has not had to contend with al-Qaeda. For many months now, Osama bin Laden's once feared legions have been consigned to the margins of the fighting in Afghanistan. Their numbers have dwindled from 500 to 100, says National Security Adviser Jones. In Pakistan they continue to enjoy the protection of the TTP and the Haqqani network but have effectively been pinned down by the CIA's drones. "Neither in Afghanistan nor in Pakistan is al-Qaeda at the tactical front edge," says a senior Administration official. Al-Qaeda remains the strategic reason for the current fighting; one of Obama's grounds for staying the course in Afghanistan is to prevent bin Laden from re-establishing safe havens there. But the only area of real military activity against al-Qaeda at the moment is in North Waziristan, where the Pakistani military is not active. The U.S. is doing the attacking, primarily with drones.
To some effect. There have been 17 strikes by unmanned aircraft in Pakistani territory thus far this year, according to the Long War Journal, a nonprofit online publication that tracks such attacks. The spike was triggered in part by a Dec. 30 suicide attack that killed seven CIA officials at an Afghan outpost. The Haqqani network and Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud apparently aided the suicide bomber; some reports say Mehsud was wounded, possibly killed, in a Jan. 14 strike. Meanwhile, the remote-control pilots operating Predators and Reapers continue to peer at their video screens, hoping to catch sight of a very tall, thin, bearded man emerging from a hideout.
Skepticism Makes Sense
Well-informed analysts know to keep the champagne on ice. At a conference at Tufts University last week attended by experts on Afghanistan, not a single optimistic take on that nation's long-standing problems could be heard. One comment became a refrain: "I have no doubt that peace will one day come to Afghanistan, but I can't say if it will be in 50 or 200 years," a speaker said. "What I can say is that at the rate we are going now, it's unlikely to be any sooner than that."
There was skepticism in Marjah too. Abdul Hadi, a student, fled the fighting along with his family on Feb. 18; now living in Lashkar Gah, he is in no hurry to return. He worries that many Taliban are just waiting for the NATO forces to move on to their next target. "I know the Taliban will come back," he says. Mohammad Hosain, a teacher from Marjah, wonders if they even left. "The Taliban does not have a uniform, so if they leave their weapons at home, they can easily move around," he says. "There is no [sign] on their face that says, 'I am a Talib.' "
People like Hadi and Hosain came by their skepticism the hard way: they have seen foreign forces defeat the Taliban in Helmand, then pull out, then repeat the cycle. The town of Musa Qala, north of Marjah, has twice been taken by NATO arms: by British and Danish forces in 2006 and by the U.S. in 2007. On both occasions, a new local government was created, and each time, the Taliban returned to murder those it deemed collaborators.
To prevent that from happening in Marjah, McChrystal is counting on his government in a box — a lineup of administrators who have prepped for months — to enforce law and order, provide basic facilities, build schools, create jobs and persuade local farmers to give up the poppy crop. But that's asking a lot from officials who have shown scant aptitude for doing a decent job elsewhere. McChrystal's plan calls for 80 prepacked governments to take root across Taliban-ruled territory over two years, but Afghanistan simply doesn't have that many clean, qualified and experienced bureaucrats, policemen, doctors and teachers. Besides, parachuting officials into former Taliban strongholds may be self-defeating; Pashtuns rarely trust anybody outside their own tribe and clan. It can hardly be reassuring to the residents of Marjah that their newly appointed mayor, Haji Zahir, has only recently returned from 15 years of living in Germany.
Even if McChrystal's officials are a huge success, two other crucial planks in Obama's plan to start pulling U.S. forces from Afghanistan in mid-2011 already look worm-eaten. One is the creation of a legitimate, reliable government in Kabul: since Karzai's contentious election late last year, Afghanistan's President has shown little inclination to ditch his corrupt cronies. Nor is there yet an Afghan security force capable of taking over from the Americans. Although U.S. commanders carefully talk up the contributions of the 4,500 Afghan National Army soldiers (two had been killed) and police in the Marjah operation, it's no secret that the U.S. Marines and British troops are doing the heavy lifting. McChrystal's target of a 134,000-man Afghan National Army by late fall — up from 104,000 now — seems hopelessly optimistic. Training is slow, and there's a scarcity in the ranks of southern Pashtuns, who are needed the most in the Taliban's strongholds.
Across the border, Pakistan's continuing support for American efforts is far from assured. Right now, Islamabad's immediate interests may coincide with Washington's, but they can just as quickly diverge, especially on the question of what to do about the Taliban's core leadership. The U.S. is adamant that it will not negotiate with Omar unless he parts ways with bin Laden. "There's a clear red line," says Richard Holbrooke, special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. "They must renounce al-Qaeda." American officials are also determined to root out the Haqqani network, which they regard as the greatest danger to NATO troops. Pakistani officials, on the other hand, view the Taliban and the Haqqanis as strategic assets and believe both should have a role in Afghanistan after the NATO withdrawal. They point out that many Afghans still regard Omar as a legitimate figure — more so, in fact, than Karzai, who is seen as an American puppet. Without Omar's endorsement, they think, any peace negotiations will be fatally flawed.
Islamabad's long-standing nightmare remains: that when the Americans go, its neighbors — especially India, Pakistan's hated rival — will be influential in Kabul. The Taliban and the Haqqanis are insurance against such an eventuality. Baradar's detention has not yet changed Pakistan's assessment of how its own interests may best be defended. Remember, too, that no matter how well Operation Moshtarak seems to be going, many Taliban commanders think they are winning. Whatever happens in Marjah, they can point to a widening influence across Afghanistan. They also have been heartened by last week's announcement that the 2,000-strong Dutch contingent will be departing this year because Holland's coalition government was unable to agree on an extension of its deployment — another indication of how unpopular the Afghan war is in the nations whose troops are fighting it.
Mullah Omar and his colleagues, taking Obama on his word that he wants to begin a U.S. pullout by July 2011, have said they intend to outlast the occupiers. If that means ceding strongholds like Marjah only to pop up elsewhere, then that's what they will do. They have been doing it for years. Call it insurgency in a box.
— With reporting by Mark Thompson, Massimo Calabresi and Michael Scherer / Washington, Tim McGirk / Islamabad, Aryn Baker / Boston and Shah Barakzai / Kabul
|What's the Quetta Shura Taliban and why does it matter?
||The Christian Science Monitor
||David Clark Scott
The arrest of half the Afghan Taliban leadership – 7 of 15 members of the Quetta Shura – in Pakistan may be indicative of a kind of pincer movement. While a US led coalition takes on Quetta Shura Taliban ground troops in southern Afghanistan, Pakistani authorities are sweeping up key leaders in Pakistan.
Anand Gopal broke the story of the scale of the arrests earlier today, and he included that Pakistan had captured Mullah Abdul Qayoum Zakir - you can read the story here.
But perhaps we failed to sufficiently highlight how important Mullah Zakir is to the fight in southern Afghanistan.
"He's the Taliban's military commander in southern Afghanistan. He's in charge of heading off the American surge in the south. If it's true that he's been captured, his removal from the battlefield is serious" says Jeffrey Dressler at the Institute for the Study of War.
Zakir has also been the key liaison between the Quetta Shura Taliban and the other Taliban groups and Al Qaeda, says Dressler. "He's the guy that the QST sent to high-level meetings. He's a jihadist with Guantánamo credentials," he says.
But Dressler is also skeptical that Zakir has been captured. "I'm shocked that the Pakistanis haven't made big news with this," he says.
What's the Quetta Shura?
The Quetta Shura is one of three key Taliban groups, as the Long War Journal noted recently: The Quetta Shura, the Haqqani Network, and the forces of Hezb-i-Islami Gulbuddin.
The Monitor's own look at some of these Taliban groups can be found here.
While these Taliban groups sometimes coordinate their efforts, in southern Afghanistan – especially in the Helmand River valley – the primary threat to security is the Quetta Shura Taliban (QST).
Here's how Dressler and Carl Forsberg at the Institute for the Study of War describe the QST (a pdf of their January report on the QST can be downloaded here):
The Quetta Shura Taliban, whose operations have systematically spread from southern Afghanistan to the west and north of the country, is by far the most active enemy group in Afghanistan. Virtually all enemy groups operating in the country have sworn allegiance (in varying degrees) to the Taliban’s leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar.
The senior leadership in Quetta … provides direction, guidance.The Quetta-based senior leaders also adjust the campaign as it unfolds if major changes in mission or resources are required. For example, senior leaders in Quetta have issued such requests for reinforcements when coalition and Afghan forces launch operations into critical enemy terrain. This type of guidance allows the Quetta-based leadership to identify its priorities to Afghan-based and sometimes is sues direct orders to the senior commanders in the south.
Senior commanders physically travel to Quetta on occasion to meet with QST senior leadership. These visits are arranged to share “best practices” and “lessons learned” to improve operational effectiveness. Communication between Quetta senior leadership and commanders in Afghanistan is not limited to face-to-face inter action, however. Raids on various compounds throughout the region have netted scores of satellite telephones and two-way radios, suggesting that communication between commanders in and out of the south is commonplace.
Helmand is where the focus of the US troop surge is. Prior to 2009, the ISAF had 7,000 troops in the valley. The number is expected to grow to more than 25,000.
The NATO offensive in Marjah, and the expected offensive coming this summer in Kandahar, are aimed at the heart of the Quetta Shura Taliban.
Similarly the arrests of key members of the Quetta Shura may indicate that the Pakistani military and intelligence agencies are now, in effect, supporting the military effort in southern Afghanistan.
The Quetta Shura – the senior leadership council once based in the western Pakistan city of Quetta – was once comprised of some 20 members. Now, that figure is believed to be down to about 15. It is led by Mullah Muhammad Omar, who set up headquarters in Quetta in 2002. He based the QST on the Supreme Shura, the Taliban council that ran Afghanistan prior to the US invasion in 2001. He continues to see the QST as the legitimate government of Afghanistan and has set up shadow government offices in various provinces.
And while the senior leadership may still sneak back to Quetta for meetings, most of the QST leaders have scattered from there.
An email this morning from Pakistani reporter Behroz Khan says:
Some pro-Kabul Afghan officials in Peshawar have said, on condition of anonymity. that the Quetta Shura has been shifted to Karachi due to fear of [CIA-operated] drone attacks. A similar comment was made by the governor of Kunduz Province, Muhammad Omar last week: the Taliban leaders residing in Quetta and runnning a shadow cabinet have been shifted to Karachi, with the consent of Pakistani officials – a charge which has not been confirmed or rejected by Pakistani officials so far.
The arrest of Quetta Shura leaders – some in Karachi – indicates that their location was no secret to Pakistani intelligence agencies.
The question that many in Western intelligence agencies are asking is: Why has Pakistan apparently turned on the group it has long supported?
The US has sought this for years, why now?
And if Pakistan can nab the No. 2 QST and Mullah Zakir, and half a dozen others, will they capture Mullah Omar too?
|The Afghan Taliban's top leaders
Over the past two months, Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency has captured four senior leaders of the Afghan Taliban, including Mullah Omar's deputy who served as the head of the top shura, the leader of a regional shura, and two shadow governors. These captures, combined with the US-led offensive in Helmand which will expand into Kandahar and the Afghan East later this year, have given rise to reports of the potential collapse of the group.
The Afghan Taliban's leadership council and its regional shuras and committees have weathered the capture and death of senior leaders in the past. The Taliban have a deep bench of leaders with experience ranging back to the rise of the Taliban movement in the early 1990s. On prior occasions, younger commanders are known to have stepped into the place of killed or captured leaders. It remains to be seen if the sustained US offensive and possible future detentions in Pakistan will grind down the Taliban's leadership cadre.
This report looks at the Afghan Taliban's top leadership council, the Quetta shura; its four regional military councils; the 10 committees; and existing as well as killed or captured members of the shura. Because the Taliban is a deliberately opaque movement, it is difficult to gain real-time intelligence on the structure of the Taliban command. The following information on the structure of the Taliban and its key leaders has been gathered from press reports and studies on the Taliban, and from discussions with US intelligence officials.
The Afghan Taliban leadership council
The Afghan Taliban leadership council, or rahbari shura, is often referred to as the Quetta Shura, as it is based in the Pakistani city of the same name. The Quetta Shura provides direction to the four regional military shuras and the 10 committees. The Quetta Shura is ultimately led by Mullah Mohammed Omar, the ‘leader of the faithful,’ who is the top leader of the Taliban, but Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar directed the Quetta Shura. Baradar was the Afghan Taliban's second in command and the group's operational commander who was detained in Karachi sometime in January or February 2010. Over the past several months, members of the Quetta Shura have been reported to be relocating to Karachi to avoid potential US airstrikes.
Regional military shuras
The Afghan Taliban have assigned regional military shuras for four major geographical areas of operations. The shuras are named after the areas in which they are based; note that all four of the regional military shuras are based in Pakistan (Quetta, Peshawar, Miramshah in North Waziristan, and Gerdi Jangal in Baluchistan).
- Quetta Regional Military Shura - This military shura, like the Taliban’s top council, takes its name from its base in the city of Quetta in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province. The Quetta Regional Military Shura directs activities in southern and western Afghanistan. It is currently led by Hafez Majid.
- Peshawar Regional Military Shura - Based in the city of Peshawar in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province, the Peshawar Regional Military Shura directs activities in eastern and northeastern Afghanistan. Abdul Latif Mansur is thought to currently lead the Peshawar shura. It was led by Maulvi Abdul Kabir before his arrest in Pakistan in February 2010.
- Miramshah Regional Military Shura - Based in Miramshah, the main town in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan, the Miramshah Regional Military Shura directs activities in southeastern Afghanistan, including the provinces of Paktika, Paktia, Khost, Logar, and Wardak. The Miramshah Regional Military Shura is led by Siraj Haqqani, the son of Jalaluddin Haqqani.
• Gerdi Jangal Regional Military Shura - Based in the Gerdi Jangal refugee camp in Baluchistan, this regional military shura focuses exclusively on Helmand Province and perhaps Nimroz province. The Gerdi Jangal Regional Military Shura is led by Mullah Adbul Zakir.
The 10 committees
Along with the four regional commands, the Afghan Taliban have 10 committees which address specific issues. Some of the members of the committees are also members of the Quetta Shura.
- Military - This committee was led by Mullah Nasir, the former shadow governor of Ghazni. It is not clear who currently leads the military committee.
- Ulema Council - Also known as the religious committee, it is currently led by Mawlawi Abdul Ali.
- Finance - This committee is led by Abdulhai Mutma’in.
- Political Affairs - This committee is reported to have been led by Maulvi Abdul Kabir before his capture in February 2010. His replacement is not yet known.
- Culture and Information - This committee, which deals with Taliban propaganda, is led by Amir Khan Mutaqqi.
- Interior Affairs - This committee is led by Mullah Abdul Jalil.
- Prisoners and Refugees - This committee is led by Mawlawi Wali Jan.
- Education - This committee is led by Mawlawi Ahmad Jan, however it may have been disbanded.
- Recruitment - This committee was led by Mullah Ustad Mohammad Yasir before he was arrested in Peshawar in January 2009. Yasir’s replacement is not known.
- Repatriation Committee - This committee is led Mullah Abdul Zakir.
Known active members of the Quetta Shura
The list below consists of the known members of the Quetta Shura. There may be additional members who are not listed, while some leaders on this list may no longer be on the shura.
- Hafiz Abdul Majeed is the current leader of the Quetta Regional Military Shura. He served as the Taliban’s intelligence chief.
- Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund was the governor of Kandahar and the Minister of Foreign Affairs during Taliban rule in Afghanistan.
- Mullah Mohammad Hassan Rehmani is considered to be very close to Mullah Omar. Rehmani has been described as his "shadow." He was the governor of Kandahar province during the reign of the Taliban.
- Mullah Abdul Qayum Zakir is the head of the Gerdi Jangal Regional Military Shura (Helmand and Nimroz provinces) and the Taliban's ‘surge’ commander in the South. Zakir is a former detainee of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba who currently serves as the Taliban’s ‘surge commander’ in the Afghan South.
- Amir Khan Muttaqi is the chief of the Information and Culture Committee.
- Siraj Haqqani is the leader of the Miramshah Regional Military Shura and the commander of the Haqqani Network. He is also the Taliban’s regional governor of Paktika, Paktia, and Khost.
- Mullah Mohammad Rasul was the governor of Nimroz province during the reign of the Taliban.
- Abdulhai Mutma’in is the chief of the Finance Committee. His served as a minister during the Taliban regime.
- Abdul Latif Mansur is the commander of the Abdul Latif Mansur Network in Paktika, Paktia, and Khost. He serves on the Miramshah Shura and was the former Minister of Agriculture for the Taliban regime. Mansur is thought to lead the Peshawar Regional Military Shura.
- Mullah Abdur Razzaq Akhundzada is the former corps commander for northern Afghanistan. He also served as the Taliban regime’s Interior Minister.
- Maulvi Hamdullah is the Taliban representative for the Gulf region. Hamdullah is considered to have been since 1994 one of Mullah Omar's most confidential aides. In addition, Hamdullah led the Finance Department in Kandahar during Taliban rule from 1994 until November 2001.
- Maulvi Qudratullah Jamal runs an investigative committee that deals with complaints from Afghan citizens against local Taliban personnel. Jamal also operates as a liaison to the Taliban's global supporters. He served as the Taliban’s chief of propaganda from 2002-2005.
- Maulvi Aminullah is the Taliban commander for Uruzgan province.
- Mullah Abdul Jalil is the head of the Taliban's Interior Affairs Committee.
- Qari Talha is the chief of Kabul operations for the Taliban.
- Sheikh Abdul Mana Niyazi is the Taliban shadow governor for Herat province.
Shura and committee members killed or captured:
- Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar directed the Quetta Shura. Baradar was the Afghan Taliban's second in command and the group's operational commander, and was detained in Karachi sometime in January or February 2010.
- Maulvi Abdul Kabir led the Peshawar Regional Military Council before he was captured by Pakistani intelligence in February 2010. He served as the Taliban's former shadow governor of the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar, as well as the governor of Nangarhar during the Taliban’s reign.
- Mullah Mir Mohammed served as the shadow governor in the northern province of Baghlan. He was detained in February 2010.
- Mullah Abdul Salam served as the shadow governor in the northern province of Kunduz. He was detained in February 2010.
- Mullah Dadullah Akhund was the Taliban’s top military commander in the South. He was killed in May 2007 by British special forces in Helmand province.
- Akhtar Mohammad Osmani was a member of the Quetta Shura and was the Taliban's chief of military operations in the provinces of Uruzgan, Nimroz, Kandahar, Farah, Herat, and Helmand, as well as a top aide to Mullah Omar. He also personally vouched for the safety of Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar. He was killed by Coalition forces while traveling near the Pakistani border in December 2006.
- Mullah Obaidullah Akhund was the Taliban Defense Minister during the reign of the Taliban from 1996 until the US toppled the government in the fall of 2001. He was close to Mullah Omar. His status is uncertain; he has been reported to have been arrested and released several times by Pakistani security forces. He was last reported in Pakistani custody in February 2008.
- Mullah Akhtar Mohammed Mansour - the former Minister of Civil Aviation and Transportation, and former shadow governor of Kandahar who was considered to be a possible successor to Baradar. He was killed in an airstrike in June 2009.
- Mullah Mansur Dadullah Akhund, who is also known as Mullah Bakht Mohammed, replaced his brother Mullah Dadullah Akhund as the top commander in the South during the summer of 2007. His status is uncertain; he was last reported to have been arrested by Pakistani security forces in January 2008 but is thought to have been exchanged as part of a hostage deal.
- Anwarul Haq Mujahid was a member of the Peshawar Regional Military Shura and the commander of the Tora Bora Military Front, which is based in Nangarhar province. He was detained in Peshawar in June 2009. Mujahid is the son of Maulvi Mohammed Yunis Khalis, a senior mujahedeen leader who was instrumental in welcoming Osama bin Laden into Afghanistan after he was ejected from the Sudan in 1996.
- Mullah Ustad Mohammed Yasir was the chief of the Recruitment Committee and a Taliban spokesman before he was arrested in Peshawar in January 2009.
- Mullah Younis, who is also known as Akhunzada Popalzai, was a former shadow governor of Zabul. He served as a police chief in Kabul during Taliban rule. He was captured in Karachi in February 2010.