A powerful Taliban faction that broke away from the main group has reconciled and swore allegiance to the Taliban’s new emir, Mullah Haibatullah. The reunion of the faction, known as the Mullah Dadullah Mahaz or Mullah Dadullah Front, is the latest success in the Taliban’s effort to bring wayward groups and commanders back into the fold after divisions over the death of its founder and first emir, Mullah Omar.
The Taliban announced that family of Mullah Dadullah Akhund, a revered commander, and his brother, Mullah Dadullah Mansour, as well as a group of commanders and fighters rejoined the so-called Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan late last week, according to a statement released on Voice of Jihad. The reconciliation was spearheaded by Mullah Abdul Manan Akhund, a brother of Mullah Omar.
“On Thursday [Aug. 12], the respected father (Haji Abdullah), sons and brothers (Sher Agha and Gran Agha), nephew (Mullah Ihsanullah), family members, commanders (Mullah Muhammad Dawood Akhund, Mullah Muhammad Sadiq Akhund) and a number of fighters of the hero of Islamic Emirate, the martyr Mullah Dadullah Akhund and Mansoor Dadullah pledge their allegiance to the leader of Islamic Emirate, Amirul Mumineen Sheikhul Hadith Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada (HA) after coming to an understanding with the officials of Islamic Emirate and brother of the late Amirul Mumineen Mullah Muhammad Umar Mujahid (RA).
“The family pledged that they shall completely obey and continue their services in the sacred united ranks of the Islamic Emirate and will strive to the best of their abilities to all plots of the enemies of Islam and motherland,” the statement continued.
US intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal said that the Dadullah family and commanders mentioned in the statement effectively make up the senior leadership of the Mullah Dadullah Front.
The Mullah Dadullah Front (also known as the Mullah Dadullah Mahaz and Mullah Dadullah Lang Allegiance) is named after Mullah Dadullah Akhund, a popular but brutal and effective commander who was killed by British special forces in Helmand province in May 2007. Dadullah was responsible for embracing al Qaeda’s ideology of waging global jihad, and incorporated al Qaeda tactics, including the use of suicide bombers, on the battlefield.
After Mullah Dadullah Akhund was killed in 2007, his brother, Mullah Mansour Dadullah, and Mullah Adbul Qayoum Zakir assumed top leadership roles in the group. Mullah Adbul Qayoum Zakir is a former Guantanamo Bay detainee who has served as the Taliban’s military commander and is now a member of the executive council, which is better known as the Quetta Shura. The Mullah Dadullah Front operates largely in the southern Afghan provinces of Kandahar, Helmand, and Uruzgan, as well as in Zabul, and is considered one of the most effective and dangerous Taliban groups in the region. It has sabotaged negotiations between the Afghan government and both lower-level Taliban leaders and fighters in the south.
Mullah Mansour Dadullah has always had a rocky relationship with the Taliban’s top leadership. After his brother was killed, he was named as the Taliban’s military commander. But within seven months after taking command of forces in the south, Mullah Omar expelled Dadullah for violating the group’s rules and barred him from the Taliban. Months after he was ousted from the Taliban, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate detained him up until his release in 2013. [See LWJ report, Dissident Taliban commander claims Pakistani intel ordered him to conduct assassinations, attacks in Afghanistan.]
Just prior to the announcement of the death of Mullah Omar in July 2015, the Mullah Dadullah Front publicly questioned whether the Taliban’s leadership was hiding Mullah Omar’s death. After it was revealed that the Taliban hid Omar’s death from April 2013 until July 2015 (he apparently died of natural causes in a hospital in Quetta), the Taliban appointed Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour as its emir. He had effectively served as the Taliban’s emir after Omar died in 2013. While the Mullah Dadullah Front remained rebellious, Mullah Zakir and a cadre of his followers remained loyal to the Quetta Shura.
Mullah Dadullah Front and the Dadullah family reconciled with Mullah Haibatullah and the Taliban despite the fact that the Taliban killed Mullah Mansour Dadullah. In September 2015, Mullah Mansour Dadullah rejected Mansour’s leadership of the Taliban, and joined with Mullah Rasul, another influential Taliban commander who created the rival High Council of Afghanistan Islamic Emirate. Mullah Mansour Dadullah’s opposition to the established Taliban was short lived. Taliban fighters loyal to Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour killed him and a number of his followers during fighting in Zabul province in November 2015.
The Taliban have had a string of successes in bringing recalcitrant leaders back into the fold. In April 2016, Mullah Omar’s brother, Mullah Abdul Manan Akhund, and son, Mullah Mohammad Yaqoub, were given senior leadership positions after swearing allegiance to Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour. They were handsomely rewarded. Mullah Manan was named the chairman of the influential Dawat wal Irshad,” or the Preaching and Guidance Commission, while Mullah Yacoub was given a seat on the Quetta Shura, “as well as the military chief of 15 provinces” within the structure of the Taliban’s Military Commission. And after the US killed Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour in a drone strike in Pakistan in May 2016, Yacoub was named one of the two deputy emirs of the Taliban. This puts him in the running to eventually succeed Mullah Haibatullah. [See LWJ report, Taliban appoints Mullah Omar’s brother, son to key leadership positions.]
Earlier last week, the Taliban announced that Mullah Baz Mohammad, who served as a deputy to Mullah Rasul, Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Akhond, a commander in Uruzgan, and their followers had reconciled.
Ironically, the US military’s killing of Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, the Taliban’s last emir, may have paved the way for rebellious Taliban commanders to rejoin the group. Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour was resented for the way he assumed the leadership of the Taliban in the wake of Mullah Omar’s death as well as his maneuverings while leading the Taliban before Omar’s death was announced. However, the Taliban have deftly leveraged influential leaders, such as Sirajuddin Haqqani (he was named one of Haibatullah’s two deputy emirs), Zakir, Manan, Yacoub, and others to woo disaffected leaders.