Senior Taliban leader dies of cancer

Rahmani 2

The Taliban has announced the death of Mullah Hassan Rahmani, a member of its top leadership council who until recently opposed the appointment of Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour as the jihadist group’s new emir.

Rahmani’s death was announced today on Voice of Jihad, the official website of the Taliban.

“With deep sadness news has been received that a renowned Jihadi figure of the country, Mullah Muhammad Hassan Rahmani, has passed away,” the Taliban stated. According to the group he was “recently battling chest cancer and passed away last night due to this illness.”

The Taliban said that Rahmani “served admirably as a member of the Leadership Council in the Jihadi ranks of Islamic Emirate” up until the time of his death. He served as the governor of the important Afghan province of Kandahar from the time the Taliban established the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” in 1996 up until the US invasion after al Qaeda’s attack on America on 9/11.

Asia Times journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad described Rahmani in 2008 as a “close adviser to [former] Taliban leader Mullah Omar,” who died in the spring of 2013. At the time, Rahmani was said to be “in daily contact” with Omar. “So much so that in Taliban circles he is considered Mullah Omar’s shadow,” Shahzad, who was killed in May 2011 by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, wrote.

Rahmani, a member of the Rahbari Shura, which is better known as the Quetta Shura because it is based in the Pakistani city of the same name, was one of several senior Taliban leaders who initially opposed the naming of Mullah Mansour to replace Mullah Omar. Omar died of natural causes in April 2013, but his death wasn’t disclosed by the Taliban until July 2015. Mansour is said to have been picked to succeed Omar by a small cadre of Taliban leaders.

Weeks before his death, Rahmani withdrew his opposition to Mansour and swore allegiance to the new Taliban emir .

Rahmani is the latest Taliban dissident to return to the fold and embrace Mansour as its leader. In September 2015, Mullah Abdul Manan Akhund, a brother of Mullah Omar, and Mullah Mohammad Yaqoub, Omar’s eldest son, swore allegiance to Mansour after initially opposing him. Yaqoub was rumored to have sought to replace his father as the emir of the group.

Additionally, Taliban commanders Niaz Mohammad, Abdullah Jan, and Abdul Rauf have recently embraced Mansour as their emir, according to the Associated Press. The three commanders were previously loyal to Mullah Mohammad Rasul, a senior leader based in Farah province who still opposes Mansour. Followers of the two Taliban factions have clashed in Zabul and Farah provinces over the past year.

While Rahmani’s death is a loss to the Taliban, his recent return to the fold is a major coup for Mansour and his followers. The Taliban seeks to present a united front, and the existence of rival factions as well as the emergence of the Islamic State’s “Khorasan province” cuts into this narrative and saps both the Taliban’s military and political strength.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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