As the spring fighting season begins in Afghanistan, the International Security Assistance Force will employ a two-pronged approach in seeking to blunt the Taliban’s expected offensive. While maintaining pressure on the Taliban in its southern strongholds in the provinces of Kandahar and Helmand, ISAF will intensify special operations raids against the Taliban’s top military and political commanders throughout the country.
Over the past year, ISAF has killed several thousand low-level fighters and hundreds of low and mid-level commanders during special operations raids and combat operations, but most of the Taliban’s top military commanders have eluded death or capture.
The Taliban commanders listed below are among those who have been most targeted by ISAF and Afghan special operations teams. These commanders are crucial in organizing attacks, recruiting fighters, and providing the ideological underpinning to inspire Taliban fighters to continue despite intense ISAF and Afghan operations. As long as these commanders elude targeting by ISAF and special ops teams, they will continue to reorganize in Pakistan and maintain their fight against ISAF and Afghan forces.
South and southwest:
Abdul Qayyum Zakir
Zakir is the Taliban’s top military commander and is closely linked to al Qaeda. Zakir, a former detainee at Guantanamo Bay, also commands the Mullah Dadullah Mahaz, or Mullah Dadullah Front, a wing of the Taliban in the south that has adopted al Qaeda’s tactics and ideology. The Mullah Dadullah Mahaz has been behind the recent spate of suicide assaults and attacks against Afghan and ISAF forces, the Afghan government, and civilians. Zakir and other top Taliban leaders are known to operate from the Pakistani city of Quetta as well from as the border city of Chaman in Baluchistan.
Hafiz Abdul Majeed
Majeed is the current leader of the Quetta Regional Military Shura, one of the Taliban’s four regional military councils. Maeed is tasked with reorganizing the Taliban in the south in the wake of major ISAF and Afghan offensives in Helmand and Kandahar. He previously served as the Taliban’s intelligence chief.
Mullah Abdul Rauf Khadim
Khadim is a former Guantanamo Bay detainee who was released by the Afghan government in 2007. Prior to his capture in 2001, Khadim led the Taliban’s mobile shock troops which were deployed in hotspots throughout the country. He is currently the Taliban’s shadow governor in Uruzgan province.
Mullah Hayatullah Khan
Khan is the Taliban’s military commander in Farah province. He is closely linked with al Qaeda, runs suicide training camps, and also serves as a spokesman for the Taliban.
Siraj is the leader of the Miramshah Regional Military Shura, one of the Taliban’s four regional military councils, and he commands the Haqqani Network. He is also the Taliban’s regional governor for the provinces of Paktika, Paktia, and Khost. Siraj is close to top al Qaeda leaders and is a member of al Qaeda’s Shura Majlis, or executive council. In March 2008, the US added Siraj to the list of specially designated global terrorists, and in March 2009 put out a bounty of $5 million for information leading to his capture.
Mullah Sangeen Zadran
Sangeen is Siraj Haqqani’s top lieutenant. He is the Taliban’s shadow governor for Paktika province and also commands forces outside of Paktika. He is considered one of the most dangerous operational commanders in eastern Afghanistan, and has organized multiple assaults on US and Afghan combat outposts in the region. In the summer of 2009, Sangeen took credit for the kidnapping of a US soldier who apparently stepped away from his post at a combat outpost in Paktika on June 30, 2009. The soldier is still in Sangeen’s custody, and is thought to be held in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan.
Jan Baz Zadran
Jan Baz Zadran is a top aide to Siraj Haqqani. He serves as the Haqqani Network’s logistical and financial coordinator, and also acquires weapons and ammunition for the network.
Khalil al Rahman Haqqani
Khalil is a brother of Jalaluddin Haqqani, the patriarch of the Haqqani Network, and an uncle of Siraj Haqqani. Khalil has served as a key fundraiser, financier, and operational commander for the Haqqani Network. The US added Khalil to the list of specially designated global terrorists in February 2011.
Badruddin is one of Siraj Haqqani”s brothers. He serves as a senior military commander in the Haqqani Network.
Mullah Abdul Kabir
Kabir is the leader of the the Peshawar Regional Military Council, which runs operations in the Afghan east, northeast, and north. He was captured by Pakistani intelligence in February 2010 but released shortly afterward. He served as the Taliban’s former shadow governor for the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar; during the Taliban’s reign, he was the governor of Nangarhar.
Anwar ul Haq Mujahid
Mujadid is the commander of the Tora Bora Military Front, a Taliban subgroup based in Nangarhar province. His father, Maulvi Mohammed Yunis Khalis, was instrumental in welcoming Osama bin Laden to Afghanistan after al Qaeda was ejected from Sudan in 1996. Pakistani intelligence officials are said to have detained Mujahid in Peshawar in June 2009, but it was rumored that he was released sometime in 2010.
North and northeast:
Qari Zia Rahman
ISAF has described Qari Zia Rahman as a “dual-hatted Taliban and al Qaeda commander” who leads operations in the northeastern provinces of Kunar and Nuristan. He also heads forces in the Pakistani tribal agencies of Bajaur and Mohmand. Special operations forces have been actively hunting “QZR” for the past year.
Dost is the Taliban’s commander in Nuristan province and a close ally with al Qaeda. He organized and led the assault on a US combat outpost in which the base was nearly overrun. Dost is featured prominently on his Tora Bora website, where he is seen carrying out operations and inspecting US military bases that were abandoned in 2009.
Munibullah is the Taliban’s military commander for Nuristan province. He has been instrumental in conducting attacks in the province, as well as in taking control of districts from Afghan forces.
Qabir Bashir Haqqani
The Taliban’s military commander in Kunduz province; he has been responsible for organizing the takeover of multiple districts in the northern province. He is closely linked to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.
Dawood, or Daud, is a senior leader in the Haqqani Network who serves as the Taliban’s shadow governor for Kabul. He is the co-leader of the so-called Kabul Attack Network, which seeks to strike at Afghan and ISAF forces in and around the Afghan capital. The Kabul Attack Network is made up of fighters from the Taliban, the Haqqani Network, and Hizb-i-Islami Gulbuddin, and cooperates with terror groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba and al Qaeda. Top Afghan intelligence officials have linked the Kabul Attack Network to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence directorate as well. The network’s tentacles extend outward from Kabul into the surrounding provinces of Logar, Wardak, Nangarhar, Kapisa, Ghazni, and Zabul, and also far north into Kunduz.
Taj Mir Jawad
Jawad, along with Daud, leads the Kabul Attack Network. He is also a senior Taliban propagandist and is believed to be one of the personalities behind Zabibullah Mujahid, the “spokesman” for the Taliban who publishes at Voice of Jihad. ISAF targeted Taj Mir Jawad’s personal network in Logar province in early April 2011.
Dangar is a senior Taliban commander who directs operations in Kabul, Kapisa, Parwan, and Wardak provinces. He is a top commander in the Kabul Attack Network.
Baryal is a senior Taliban commander in Kapisa province, just north of Kabul. Baryal has been instrumental in carving out Taliban safe havens in Kapisa. In 2008, he directed an ambush that killed 10 French soldiers.
Amir Khan Muqtaddi
Muqtaddi is the director of of the Taliban’s media operations. He is believed to manage the Voice of Jihad, the Taliban’s online propaganda machine that cranks out dozens of press releases daily. Voice of Jihad is published in English, Arabic, Urdu, Farsi, and Pashtu.
For more information on the leadership of the Taliban in Afghanistan, see LWJ report, The Afghan Taliban’s top leaders.