It’s been a banner week for band reunion announcements. First, there was word from the Guns n’ Roses camp that Slash, Axl, and Duff were headed out on the road this summer. Not to be outdone, the current leader of the Taliban, Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, is also getting the band back together. This week he managed to convince Mullah Abdul Manan, Mullah Omar’s brother, and Mullah Muhammad Yaqoub, Mullah Omar Jr., to come on in for the big win, appointing them to senior positions in the insurgency.
“In addition to having membership in the leadership council, the leadership appointed Manan as head of Preaching and Guidance Commission, and Yaqoub as military commander responsible for 15 provinces in Afghanistan.” — Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, Taliban spokesman
Why is this happening? And why now?
Because the Taliban under Mansoor have been more fractured than ever. It’s been a long time since they were a monolithic force with the combined might capable of taking on both foreign and Afghan forces in the field. If they ever were that united in the first place.
And that means that other Taliban factions have been springing up all over the place. Which has put Mansoor in the unenviable position of counterinsurgent. And since he could give two fucks about hearts and minds, he’s opted to counter those efforts with violence.
All of which weakens the Taliban, not only against NATO and Kabul, but against the other new awful kid on the block, the Islamic State. Having Daesh around means the Taliban are fighting on three fronts:
- Other Taliban
And Mansoor would like to shorten that list by two. Which this does, at least in theory. Just in time for the start of that finest of Afghan traditions, the fighting season.
Mansoor has to be concerned about the state of things on the other side. Not only are Afghan forces listening to the Americans and going on the offensive, the US is also helping out in a big way by cranking the airstrikes up to 11. And that’s without the increase in local airpower as the Afghans take delivery of more A-29s and MD-530s.
So he’d be happier if all the kids were in the same pool going into the summer.
Will it work?
Depends on how you define “work.”
Will it bring back some of the doubters who’ve been less than enthused by how the succession was handled? And who are not overly fond of Mansoor’s alleged connections with Pakistan?
Is it going to unify them enough to be a more effective fighting force?
That’s assuming they have enough combat power to be effective in the first place. If Afghan forces do leave the checkpoints, which they will if the Americans continue to provide airpower, then that spells trouble for the Taliban. Massed Afghan forces backed by US warplanes is not something the Taliban can face effectively.
We’re looking at a new phase in the US intervention – still fighting an insurgency, but tossing out that “money as a weapons system” bit. And with fewer US troops on the ground, civilian casualties are going to be at the feet of the Afghans. And the Americans are very OK with that.
What does this mean for the peace process?
SUPER AMAZING SPOILER AHEAD: Not a damn thing.
It could lead to a more unified front on the insurgency side of the negotiating table, but that’s not what Mansoor has in mind. What he’d like to do this summer is build on the chaos the Taliban did last year, and continue with the beating they gave Afghan forces in 2015.
Which would lead to a stronger position at the table, and maybe end up with a better deal from Kabul and the Americans. To get there he needs to rack up some victories in the coming months. And that means the Afghan people can look forward to another summer of increased violence.
And no word on whether Axl and Co. are coming to Kabul.
Also published on Medium.