The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the official name of the Taliban, appointed Mullah Omar’s brother and eldest son to key leadership positions in the jihadist group’s executive council. Mullah Omar’s kin had previously opposed the appointment of Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour as emir of the Taliban after Omar’s death was disclosed in the summer of 2015, but quickly changed their mind and swore allegiance to Mansour.
The Taliban announced yesterday that Mullah Abdul Manan Akhund, a brother of Mullah Omar, was named “the head of Dawat wal Irshad,” or the Preaching and Guidance Commission. Mullah Mohammad Yaqoub, Omar’s eldest son, was given a seat on the executive council, which is better known as the Quetta Shura, “as well as the military chief of 15 provinces” within the structure of the Taliban’s Military Commission.
The Taliban made the announcement in an English-language statement on Voice of Jihad, its official website.
“Both of the new officials of Islamic Emirate were given advise [sic] by the Amir ul Mumineen [the Commander of the Faithful, the title for Mullah Mansour] who later prayed to Allah Almighty for their success in their current duties,” the statement concluded.
According to the Taliban, Manan and Yacoub received their new positions at “a special meeting” that “was convened by the Islamic Emirate in which the leader, council members, high ranking officials and military heads participated.”
While the statement did not indicate where the meeting was held, it likely took place in Quetta, the Pakistani city where the Taliban’s top leaders are known to be based.
Both Manan and Yacoub accepted senior level positions within the Taliban. The Preaching and Guidance Commission is considered by the Taliban to be one of its most important committees, as it is tasked with spreading “the goals of Islamic Emirate and illegality and aims of the invaders and their stooges,” or the Afghan government. The Military Commission is the Taliban’s largest and most influential structure, and Yacoub now assumes control of military operations in 15 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces.
The appointment of Manan and Yacoub to high level positions within the Taliban’s leadership hierarchy may indicate that they are in line to succeed Mansour. However, they would face stiff competition from Sirajuddin Haqqani, one of Mansour’s two deputies. Siraj is the Taliban’s overall military commander and also leads the Haqqani Network, which is closely linked to al Qaeda and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate and military.
Manan and Yacoub initially opposed Mansour’s appointment as Amir ul Mumineen after Mullah Omar’s death was announced on July 31, 2015. Omar died at a hospital in Karachi in April 2013, and the Taliban and Omar’s family concealed his death as they feared it would cause divisions at a crucial time, when US forces began to withdraw from Afghanistan.
Reports from the region indicated that Manan and Yacoub initially did not approve of the way that Mansour was chosen to lead the Taliban. Yacoub is rumored to have sought to replace his father as the emir of the group.
But by mid-September 2015, Manan and Yacoub reconciled with Mansour and swore allegiance to him. This closed a major rift that existed within the Taliban’s ranks, but others still exist.
Mansour still faces a challenge from Mullah Rasul, who leads a breakaway Taliban faction. Clashes between supporters of the two groups break out occasionally, but there are some indications that the factions wish to reconcile. The Islamic State also has a small presence in Afghanistan, however it does not pose a direct threat to Mansour’s leadership.