Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS) Chief testified to the Afghan Senate today that Maluvi Mohammad Ismail, who until last year served as the Military Council Chairman for the Taliban’s Quetta Shura, had recently been executed by rival Taliban members along with 25 other “key rebel figures.” NDS chief Lieutenant General Rahmatullah Nabil additionally noted that the former head of the Taliban’s Recruitment Council, Ustad Yasir, a key ideologue for the Taliban movement, had been among those killed. And regional reports identified two other Afghan Taliban officials who had also been killed: Maulvi Shaheedkhel (Shahid Khel), allegedly the shadow governor of Laghman province, and a Taliban intelligence figure named Maulvi Ahmadullah Wror.
According to Nabil, Ismail and his supporters had been detained by Taliban fighters on the way to an airport in Pakistan’s Balochistan province, as they were preparing to fly to a meeting for peace talks with the Afghan government, according to Pajhwok Afghan News. And in fact, local media reported on April 18 that several high-ranking Taliban members, including Ismail, Mullah Ahad Agha, and Mullah Ghulam Hassan, had been seized near Quetta by Taliban gunmen in early April. During the Taliban regime, Mullah Ghulam Hassan reportedly served as the minister of intelligence and Mullah Ahad Agha served as a Taliban commander in Zabul province.
Numerous Afghan security officials speaking on condition of anonymity indicated that members of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) had killed Ismail and his fighters near Girdi Jangle, a sprawling village just across the border from Afghanistan’s Helmand province. Pakistani security officials responded negatively to the charges, denying ISI involvement and citing a lack of evidence that the killings even took place.
Taliban spokesman Zabibullah Mujahid also refuted claims that Ismail and other Taliban figures had been killed. Mujahid claimed the Afghan government was creating propaganda against the Taliban and that Ismail was “alive and well.” The Taliban are frequently known to deny the deaths of senior commanders until replacements are chosen. But a Taliban commander who reconciled with the Afghan government and now holds the position of chairman of the Kandahar council of clerics, Mullah Tor Jan, has confirmed that Ismail and his companions were killed near Quetta about a week ago.
Separately, a senior Taliban official speaking on condition of anonymity confirmed to Radio Azadi that Ustad Yasir had indeed died, but that details concerning his death could not be verified. The unnamed commander indicated that Yasir was last known to be alive while in the custody of the ISI.
Ismail, a senior Taliban commander who had previously served as the shadow governor for Zabul province, has a long history of corrupt behavior, including taking bribes, collecting taxes, and extortion. Last year, Ismail became the powerful Military Council Chairman for the Taliban’s Quetta Shura.
In August 2011, Ismail became entangled in a bloody rift with Mullah Baz Mohammad, a notorious Noorzai tribesmen and Taliban commander in Farah province. Following a funding dispute between Ismail and Baz Mohammad’s main financial supporter, Maulvi Habibullah Noorzai, Ismail kidnapped and detained Habibullah for insubordination. In a complicated twist, Baz Mohammad and his Noorzai Taliban lured Ismail into a trap and detained him until they could arrange a prisoner exchange for Habibullah. The humiliating event threatened to tear the Taliban military council apart, and the debacle seriously strained support given to the Taliban’s senior leadership by the prominent Noorzai tribe.
Today’s revelations of a serious Taliban purge follow reports from April 17 implying that Mullah Sharafuddin, the Taliban shadow governor for Zabul province, along with his aide Murad Khan Kamil and three others, was gunned down by unknown assassins in the Saro Nasar neighborhood of Quetta, Pakistan. Despite Taliban efforts to depict a unified and robust military infrastructure, the recent events that have come to light suggest that rifts, power-grabs, corruption, and mistrust may be eroding its organizational cohesiveness.