Samihullah, the new commander of the Taliban in Herat, has close ties to al Qaeda.
Scores of Taliban fighters loyal to a recently slain Taliban leader have surrendered to the government in the western province of Herat.
Over the past two days, 68 Taliban fighters loyal to Ghulam Yahya Akbari have surrendered to the Strengthening Peace Committee in Herat and vowed not to take up arms against the government. The 68 fighters came from the districts of Gazara and Pashtun Zarghon, two Taliban strongholds in Herat.
The defections from the Taliban began just four days after Akbari and more than 20 of his followers were killed during a joint Coalition and Afghan raid in the Gazara district on Oct. 9.
Akbari, who was known as the “Tajik Taliban,” broke with the Karzai government last year and stepped up attacks in the formerly peaceful western province. In an interview with Al Jazeera in 2008, he claimed to operate more than 20 bases in the region and boasted of having more than 600 fighters under his command. With the defection of 68 fighters and the loss of the 20 fighters killed in the attack that also killed Akbari, the Herat Taliban faction has lost almost one-six of its effective strength.
An al Qaeda-friendly leader succeeds Akbari
Akbari has long been known to shelter al Qaeda fighters who transited Iran to destinations farther south.
“Arabs come and stay with us from time to time, but they don’t stay here, they move to provinces like Kandahar and Helmand,” Akbari said during an interview with al Jazeera in 2008. “They stay on the front lines.”
Al Qaeda trainers from the Lashkar al Zil, or the Shadow Army, are also known to have embedded with Akbari’s forces. Three such trainers were killed in the Gazara district on Oct. 6, just three days before Akbari was killed.
The Taliban have appointed a new leader who is thought to be closely tied to al Qaeda as well.
The new leader, known as Samihullah, was a senior lieutenant to Akbari and is thought to have been responsible for the group’s ties to al Qaeda. In addition to having close links to al Qaeda, Samihullah speaks fluent Arabic and graduated from the Arab Faculty in Herat, al Jazeera reported.