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. Sheikh Mohammed Aminullah is thought to currently lead the Peshawar shura. he replaced Abdul Latif Mansur sometime in early 2011. 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 is led by Mullah Zakir. Mullah Nasir, the former shadow governor of Ghazni, had previously served as the military chief.
• Ulema Council – Also known as the religious committee, it is currently led by Mawlawi Abdul Ali.
• Finance – This committee is led by Gul Agha Ishakzai.
• 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 – The leader of this committee is not known.
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.
• Agha Jan Mohtasim is the former Finance Minister during the Taliban regime and the son-in-law of Mullah Omar. Mohtasim is a close confidant of Omar and thought to be a possible successor to Mullah Baradar.
• 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.
• Gul Agha Ishakzai is the chief of the Finance Committee. He served as Mullah Omar’s personal financial secretary and was one of Omar’s closest advisers.
• 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.
• Mullah Akhtar Mohammed Mansour is the former Minister of Civil Aviation and Transportation, and former shadow governor of Kandahar who is considered to be a possible successor to Baradar.
• 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 reported 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 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.
• “The Other Side,”Afghanistan Analysis Network
• “The Taliban Biography, The Structure and Leadership of the Taliban 1996-2002,” George Washington University’s National Security Archive
• “The Taliban: An Organizational Analysis,” Military Review
• “Quetta-based Taliban move to Karachi,” The Nation
Correction: Mullah Akhtar Mohammed Mansour was initially reported as being killed in Helmand province by the British in June 2009, but he is still alive.