Abstract: Once renowned for its political cohesion, the Afghan Taliban movement now finds itself enduring sustained internal divisions and threats from rival factions. The revelation in July 2015 that the leader of the Taliban, Mullah Omar, had, in fact, been dead for nearly two years led to an internal power struggle that further fractured the Taliban movement. Ever since, various factions of Taliban fighters opposed to the current Taliban leadership council have engaged in open combat with their former group. The emergence of the Islamic State in Khorasan Province, a group that includes some disaffected Afghan Taliban commanders, has resulted in conflict between the two groups. The Afghan Taliban remains the most organized and lethal insurgent group operating in Afghanistan, and it controls significant swaths of the country. But its fracturing is weakening its ability to sustain its current position. 

The Afghan Taliban remain the most organized and lethal insurgent group operating in Afghanistan, despite competition from the other 20 terrorist organizations and three violent extremist organizations present in the region.1 However, once renowned for its political cohesion, the Afghan Taliban movement now finds itself distracted by sustained internal divisions and threats from rival factions. The revelation in July 2015 that supreme leader of the Taliban, Mullah Muhammad Omar, had been dead for nearly two years and that certain senior Taliban leaders had closely guarded this secret, further fractured the Taliban movement’s senior leadership, known as the Rahbari Shura (Leadership Council). Ever since, rival Taliban factions have engaged in open combat, resulting in at least 60 clashes between the summer of 2015 and December 2017, according to a review of local media reports and Taliban press statements. Hundreds of insurgents belonging to the Taliban and rival Taliban splinter factions have been killed in those clashes. Similarly, the emergence of the Islamic State in Khorasan Province (ISKP), an Afghanistan-based offshoot of the deadly terrorist organization in Syria and Iraq, in January 2015 has created violent competition between the Taliban and ISKP cadres in as many as 10 Afghan provinces,a leaving scores dead on both sides since late 2014.

This article describes these developments and identifies the catalysts and factors involved in each of the main warring factions within the Taliban as well as between the ISKP and Taliban. The article also attempts to assess what impact sustained internal divisions have had on the Taliban movement and its cohesion, and whether these divisions could erode the Taliban’s momentum on the battlefield.

During its formation in the early 1990s, the Taliban successfully transcended tribal and cultural norms, representing a strict form of Sunni Islam based on Deobandi doctrine, a dogmatic form of Islam originating in northern India that reinforces a conservative Islamic ethical code. Although the Taliban were mostly drawn from Afghanistan’s largest ethnic group, the Pashtun, tribal lineage overall had very little to do with its formation but did assist in the movement’s continuity. Core Taliban leaders hailed from both the Durrani and Ghilzai tribal confederations, which have historically competed for and clashed over political dominance. The Taliban movement, from a political standpoint, aimed to transcend tribal affinity.2 Additionally, the movement initially tried to appeal to all of Afghanistan’s ethnicities, including Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Hazaras.3

One of the most notable and enduring attributes of the Taliban movement is its perceived level of cohesiveness and its senior leadership’s ability to remain largely unified despite internal pressures and external threats. However, in 2012, analysts observed serious political rifts emerging among the Taliban’s senior leadership, which included dismissal of insubordinate or disagreeable commanders and disregard for orders from superiors by some field commanders. These developments, in part, were born from an internal political debate between those Taliban blocs that supported engaging in a peace dialogue with the United States and those that opposed a negotiated peace process.4

Additionally, in late 2014, the Islamic State first emerged in Afghanistan, although it only formally announced its creation and named its leadership in January 2015.5 The ISKP mostly consisted of disaffected and marginalized former Afghan and Pakistani Taliban leaders and their loyalists. It did not take long before elements of the Afghan Taliban and rival ISKP factions were battling over territory, especially the fertile farming valleys in Helmand and Nangarhar provinces where the Taliban reap windfall profits from the area’s poppy cultivation.6

Perhaps the strongest disruption for the Taliban occurred in July 2015, however, when senior Taliban leaders could no longer conceal the fate of its Amir al-Mu’minin (“Commander of the Faithful”) Mullah Muhammad Omar, whose death sometime in 2013 had been kept secret.7 The Taliban broke into two segments almost immediately after his death became public as competition over the selection of the Mullah Omar’s successor intensified. Mullah Omar’s close adviser Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansoor was chosen to lead the Taliban movement in late July 2015 in a process kept behind closed doors, once again raising the ire of Mansoor’s detractors and prompting some Taliban leaders, such as Political Commission Chairman Tayyeb Agha, to resign in protest.8 Despite Mansoor’s call for unity in his Eid al-Ahda message on September 22, 2015,9 the Taliban effectively split into two blocs, which remain in place today.10 Mansoor was later killed in a U.S. drone strike as he traveled through a remote area in Pakistan’s Baluchistan Province in May 2016, which created a short-lived leadership vacuum. Sheikh Haibatullah Akhundzada, a Noorzai Pashtunb from Kandahar, became the new leader of the Taliban, although he is widely considered to be more of an Islamic scholar than a military tactician. Sirajuddin Haqqani, a Pashtun from the Zadran tribe in the east of Afghanistanc and leader of the Haqqani Network, maintained his position as deputy leader of the Taliban, a position he had ascended to under Mansoor’s tenure in 2015.11 Mullah Yaqub, the eldest son of deceased Taliban leader Mullah Omar, also became a deputy leader of the Taliban.12 The Taliban senior leadership, in this context, has tenuously overcome its most acute internal political divisions, though claims persist of friction between Mansoor’s favored Ishaqzaid Pashtun Taliban commanders and Haibatullah as well as rivalries between the Taliban’s Peshawar Shura and the Quetta Shura.13

Several anti-Taliban entities, mostly a coterie of disgruntled former Afghan and Pakistani Taliban commanders, including the ISKP, the Islamic Emirate High Council of Afghanistan (IEHCA), and local paramilitary groups comprised of disaffected former Taliban fighters supported by the Afghan government, currently conduct operations against Taliban field commanders and fighting elements.14


Afghanistan (Rowan Technology)

Emergence of Islamic State in Khorasan Province
The phenomenon known as the Islamic State announced its expansion into “Khorasan Province”—modern-day Afghanistan, Pakistan, parts of eastern Iran, and Central Asia—in late January 2015.15 However, this was much more of a branding exercise than a true expansion effort by the Islamic State. In March 2014, a small group of al-Qa`ida members who were active in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region defected to the Islamic State, setting the stage for rogue elements of the fractured Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and disgruntled, disenfranchised Afghan Taliban commanders to coalesce around the black flag of the Islamic State during the summer of 2014.16

The emerging ISKP factions in Afghanistan’s eastern Nangarhar Province consisted of militants from Lashkar-e-Islam, an anti-Pakistan organization, as well as radical salafis17 and TTP leaders from Pakistan’s Orakzai and Mohmand Agencies. One such former TTP leader, Hafez Sayed Khan, a trained salafi from Orakzai, would serve as the first wali (governor) of Khorasan Province. Sayed Khan often criticized the Afghan Taliban for accepting support from the Pakistan government and for being too lenient on the Afghan government. Many of Sayed Khan’s fighters and loyalists had relocated to Nangarhar following a series of Pakistani military operations in Khyber Agency and North Waziristan beginning in 2010.18

Tension between the Afghan Taliban and ISKP was apparent from the onset, and violent clashes between the rivals exploded in December 2014 in Nangarhar’s Naziyan and Kot districts, which lasted through the spring of 2015. The Taliban lost several district shadow chiefs in costly attacks conducted by the ISKP, which ultimately forced the Taliban to withdraw from three districts in Nangarhar by May 2015. By late June 2015, the ISKP had consolidated its position in eight of Nangarhar’s districts and likely comprised a fighting force of 3,750 to 4,000 fighters.19

Meanwhile, the ISKP factions in Afghanistan’s Helmand and Farah provinces—led by local, disgruntled Afghan Taliban leaders—failed to recruit, expand, and hold their small pockets of territory. Deputy wali of Khorasan Abdul Rauf Khadem, a hardline salafi and Taliban commander who had spent several years in detention at Guantanamo Bay, was killed in a coalition airstrike in February 2015, less than two months after his emergence as a senior ISKP leader.20 His ISKP faction quickly dissipated following additional attacks against it by loyalist Afghan Taliban fighters in Helmand’s Kajaki District. The ISKP faction in Farah Province was virtually wiped out by rival Taliban factions around the same time, with its leader, Abdul Razeq Mehdi, fleeing Farah for Nangarhar Province.21

Although the ISKP failed in its initial effort to expand throughout Afghanistan, the group reconstituted itself in Nangarhar Province throughout 2015 and 2016,22 distracting the Taliban from otherwise attacking Afghan government interests or coalition forces in many parts of Nangarhar. Despite attempts by the Afghan Taliban to mediate the situation and deescalate the level of violence, the ISKP most likely was responsible for killing an influential Taliban shadow governor for Nangarhar in June 2015 while he visited Peshawar, Pakistan.23

By then, the specter of the Islamic State expansion became a top order concern for the Afghan government and coalition forces, and since mid-2015, tremendous resources have been expended trying to eliminate the ISKP from every corner in Afghanistan. But their efforts to weaken the group have produced uneven results.e This leveraging of resources may have unintentionally strengthened Afghan Taliban factions who were otherwise bogged down fighting against the ISKP, however. The Taliban appeared to maximize the notoriety of the ISKP brand, and thus the Afghan government’s zeal in countering the group, by labeling rivals as belonging to the group. General John Nicholson, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, estimated in September 2016 that the ISKP could field a fighting force of 1,200 to 1,300, most of whom were former Pakistani militants affiliated with the TTP and remnants of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU).24

Ongoing fighting between the ISKP and Taliban continued throughout 2016 and 2017, with the former nearly overrunning the notorious Tora Bora cave complex in June 2017, an area where al-Qa`ida leader Usama bin Ladin escaped from after 9/11.25

The ISKP suffered numerous blows to its leadership after its inception, however, including the loss of three of its walis.f In February 2017, General Nicholson reported that Afghan and coalition forces had succeeded in reducing the ISKP’s number of fighters by almost half and its territory by two-thirds, and had eliminated the ISKP’s top 14 leaders.26 Though the ISKP has borne the brunt of numerous Afghan and coalition offensives since 2016, including an operation in which the U.S. military detonated a Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB) munition against an ISKP tunnel complex in Nangarhar,27 it continues to maintain a fighting presence of approximately 2,000 fighters, according to the Afghan Chief of Army Staff in December 2017.28 Approximating the actual troop strength of ISKP is a rather difficult task, though the group’s fighting force in early 2018 probably numbers at least 1,000 to 1,200 fighters, a figure much smaller than the 20,000 fighter’s ISKP claimed it had in October 2017.29 The ISKP continues its urban terror campaign in Kabul, including 10 complex attacks in 2017 mostly targeting Shi`a mosques and cultural centers in an attempt at fomenting sectarian conflict.30 Presently, the ISKP also remains capable of battling the Afghan Taliban and Afghan security forces in Kunar, Nangarhar, Ghor, Faryab, and Jowzjan provinces despite pressures against it from the Afghan government, coalition forces, and the Taliban.31

Of the various internal divisions and fractures the Taliban faces, the ISKP remains the biggest military and ideological threats to the organization and its dominance over rural Afghanistan, so much so that the Taliban has often exaggerated claims and spread rumors that rival commanders have defected to the ISKP in hopes that Afghan and coalition forces will respond by targeting and eliminating such commanders. For instance, after the Taliban failed to reconcile with former Afghan Taliban commander Mullah Mansour Dadullah in the summer of 2015, the Taliban publicly accused Dadullah of defecting to the Islamic Stateg in an attempt to erode Dadullah’s local support and to entice the Afghan government and coalition forces into targeting Dadullah and his followers. Dadullah released a statement in September 2017 denying he had pledged fealty to the Islamic State, calling such claims “propaganda.”32

The Islamic Emirate High Council of Afghanistan 
After the Afghan Taliban split in July 2015, Mullah Mohammad Rasoul, a Noorzai who had long served as the Taliban shadow governor of Nimroz Province and who had a long history of working closely with Mullah Omar, led a cabal of disaffected and disenfranchised Taliban officials and commanders in opposition to Mansoor’s Taliban.33

Rasoul announced the formation of his Taliban faction, known as the Islamic Emirate High Council of Afghanistan (IEHCA), and appointed the IEHCA’s leadership council in early November 2015.34 Reportedly 6,000 fighters gathered to listen to Rasoul’s call to arms in Farah Province, in which Rasoul denounced Mansoor for “hijacking” the Taliban movement.35 The IEHCA comprised mostly of Noorzai Pashtun Taliban commanders loyal to Rasoul and was active in Herat, Nimroz, and Farah provinces and in parts of Badghis, Ghor, Helmand, and Kandahar provinces. Rasoul appointed former Taliban-era Governor of Herat Province Mullah Abdul Manan Niazi as the IEHCA’s chief spokesman and political deputy, and the aforementioned Mullah Mansour Dadullah became the IEHCA’s deputy leader.36 Dadullah, a Kakar Pashtunh and former senior Afghan Taliban leader, had long opposed Mansoor and had opened his own military front against the Taliban in southeastern Zabul Province in August 2015, prior to being named IEHCA’s deputy leader. Between August 2015 and May 2016, the Taliban found themselves at war with the IEHCA in multiple provinces, including Herat, Farah, Helmand, Badghis, Ghor, and Zabul. Although the Taliban killed Dadullah and several of his top commanders in mid-November 2015, subsequent battles between the IEHCA and the Taliban between November 2015 and May 2016 killed approximately 166 Taliban and 67 IEHCA fighters, with hundreds more wounded on both sides.37

In February 2016, Obaidullah Hunar, a Kakar Pashtun affiliated with the Haqqani Network and an associate of Dadullah who had defected from the Taliban following their killing of Dadullah, issued a statement refusing to acknowledge Mansoor as the legitimate leader of the Taliban and initiated clashes with the Haqqani Network, killing as many as 18 Haqqani fighters, including the Taliban shadow chief for Urgun District named Hizbullah.38 Hunar most likely defected shortly after the Taliban siege against Mansur Dadullah and his Kakar associates in Zabul, though Hunar announced the formation of the Islamic Movement of Afghanistan in February 2016, a Taliban splinter faction comprised of many Kakar Pashtuns loyal to Dadullah and the IEHCA. The Taliban responded swiftly by killing Hunar in a suicide bombing within a week of the Islamic Movement of Afghanistan’s creation, though some 70 fighters on both sides had been killed before the clashes subsided.39


Obaidullah Hunar (center) appeared in a propaganda video announcing the formation of the Islamic Movement of Afghanistan in early February 2016 shortly before he was killed in a suicide attack. (Image source: “New Taliban Faction Emerges In Paktika,” Tolo News, February 15, 2016.)

The IEHCA continued to pressure the Taliban in southwestern Afghanistan throughout 2016. However, the loss of Mansour Dadullah, Obaidullah Hunar, and the defection of Maulavi Baz Mohammad Noorzai back to the Taliban imperiled the IEHCA.i In March 2016, Pakistani authorities confirmed its arrest of the IEHCA’s overall leader, Mohammad Rasoul.40 Although it has never disclosed its troop strength, it is unlikely that the IEHCA could mobilize more than 3,000-3,500 fighters across the seven to 10 provinces where it maintains a presence.j Despite crushing blows to its leadership structure, the IEHCA has managed to survive, albeit with alleged tacit Afghan government support, and continues to clash frequently with rival Afghan Taliban fighters in southwestern, western, and northwestern Afghanistan.41

To date, the most active IEHCA-Taliban battlefront remains the Zer Koh Valley, in Shindand District, Herat Province, where hundreds of IEHCA and Taliban fighters have been killed and wounded since the summer of 2015. The IEHCA in Herat Province is led by a former Taliban commander named Mullah Nangyalai Khan, a Noorzai Pasthun from the Zer Koh Valley.42 Nangyalai commands several hundred fighters in Herat and frequently clashes with Afghan Taliban fighters led by Mullah Abdul Samad, a senior Taliban commander for Herat Province.43 The fighting between both sides has intensified recently, and the situation remains tense as of January 2018 after Mullah Samad and several of his key commanders were reportedly injured and/or killed during clashes with Nangyalai’s forces in late December 2017.44


Nangyalai Khan (center) appeared in an undated IEHCA propaganda video in November 2016. The video was provided to the author in August 2017 by a source from Herat Province. 

The Taliban’s Three-Front Campaign 
The Afghan Taliban remains a potent, lethal threat to the Afghan government, coalition forces, and local insurgent rivals. The Taliban have maintained significant momentum on the battlefield since the deaths of Mullah Omar and his successor, Akhtar Mansoor. The Taliban reportedly control or contest an estimated 13.3 percent of Afghanistan’s districts as of August 2017, a five-point increase from the same period in 2016, according to U.S. military data.45 However, the Taliban now face fighting a three-front campaign: the Afghan government and coalition forces; the ISKP; and a coterie of splinter factions, such as the IEHCA. The Taliban are now led by the cleric, Sheikh Haibatullah, who, though held in high esteem, lacks any noteworthy battlefield management experience. By contrast, Mullah Omar had leveraged his role as a symbolic figurehead during his tenure as leader of the Taliban and delegated critical responsibilities to highly trusted and competent deputies, and Mansoor’s financial prowess and hands-on style led to more victories on the battlefield during his period of leading the Taliban. So far, Haibatullah’s low-key approach and disconnect from influential field commanders has led to ongoing internal discord, especially in key battlefield areas such as Helmand Province where both the Taliban shadow governor and the Taliban military council leader have disobeyed Haibatullah’s orders, reportedly even refusing to send locally acquired revenue streams back to Haibatullah in Quetta, Pakistan.46 Haibatullah eventually had to purge and replace 24 Taliban shadow officials in early 2017 in an attempt to consolidate his chain of command.47

“Haibatullah is a simple, village-type mullah, very conservative and hardline, but he has no capability to manage the strong personalities of the Taliban Military Commission. His selection can be considered mostly symbolic, although it is important to note that his strongest lobbyists were Taliban commanders from Kandahar,” an observer in close contact with the Taliban told the author.48 By contrast to its ISKP and IEHCA rivals, who collectively could field a fighting force not exceeding a few thousand fighters, the Afghan Taliban most likely comprises of 35,000 to 50,000 active combatants nationwide at any given time.49 Despite an exceptional numerical advantage, the Taliban have failed to eradicate ISKP from Nangarhar and other areas like Jowzjan, nor have the Taliban defeated the IEHCA in Herat, even though the Taliban have launched numerous offensives against both rivals. The Taliban have also adapted and innovated over time and now implement tactics and techniques seen from other battlefields, such as replicating the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria’s usage of plundered government Humvees as vehicle-borne-IEDs (VBIEDs); highly destructive “tunnel bombs;” coordinated suicide attacks against hard and soft targets; high-profile assassinations; and magnetic IEDs.50

It should be expected that the Taliban’s campaign of terror will persist in the near and medium term, and its campaign against local rivals shows no signs of relenting. However, given the continued infighting and fracturing within its ranks, it is yet to be determined how long the Taliban can endure waging a three-front campaign across Afghanistan.     CTC

Matthew C. DuPée is a senior analyst for the U.S. Department of Defense. He previously served as a research associate at the Naval Postgraduate School’s Remote Sensing Center and at the Program for Culture & Conflict Studies. His research focuses on organized crime, insurgency, illegal mineral extraction, and the narcotics industry in Southwest Asia. He holds a master’s degree in regional security studies (South Asia) from the Naval Postgraduate School.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any agency of the U.S. government. 

Substantive Notes
[a] The ISKP, since its inception, has had a presence in Farah, Helmand, Ghor, Jowzjan, Sar-e Pul, Faryab, Kunduz, Ghazni, Nangarhar, and Kunar provinces.

[b] The Noorzai tribe belongs to the Panjpai tribal component of the Durrani Pashtun Confederation, the largest Pashtun confederation found in southern Afghanistan. Prominent Noorzai Pashtuns are split between supporting the current Afghan government and the Afghan Taliban, though some Noorzai Taliban commanders have allegedly been underrepresented within the ranks of the Taliban leadership. Although Haibatullah is a Noorzai, he is viewed as ‘tribe-neutral’ and has not leveraged his tribal heritage with respect to his new position. Borhan Osman, “Taleban in Transition: How Mansur’s death and Haibatullah’s Ascension May Affect the War (and Peace),” Afghan Analysts Network, May 27, 2016.

[c] The Zadran is a Highland Pashtun tribe found predominantly in Afghanistan’s Paktika, Paktiya, and Khost provinces, as well as in nearby North Waziristan, Pakistan. Sirajuddin Haqqani belongs to the Sultankhel clan of the Prangai subtribe, which is a part of the Mezi subtribe of the Zadran. Vahid Brown and Don Rassler, Fountainhead of Jihad: The Haqqani Nexus, 1973-2012 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013), p. 28.

[d] The Ishaqzai tribe belongs to the Panjpai tribal component of the Durrani Pashtun Confederation, and its members are predominantly found living in Farah, Kandahar, and Helmand provinces. The Taliban has had several influential Ishaqzai leaders among its upper echelon, including deceased Taliban Amir Akhtar Mansur, Taliban Financial Commission Chairman Gul Agha, and the powerful Taliban shadow governor for Helmand Province Mullah Abdul Manan. “Ishaqzai Tribe,” Tribal Analysis Center, November 2009; Matthew C. DuPée, “The Taliban Stones Commission and the Insurgent Windfall from Illegal Mining,” CTC Sentinel 10:3 (2017).

[e] For instance, while initial successful operations against ISKP in 2015 forced ISKP leadership to consolidate its forces and move them from Farah, Helmand, and other areas to Nangarhar Province, ISKP has since weathered leadership decapitation strikes and several offensives launched against it. As of January 2018, ISKP still remains very active in the eastern provinces of Nangarhar and Kunar, has succeeded in establishing a second front in the northwestern Jowzjan province, and still orchestrates and carries out suicide attacks in Kabul City. Dan Lamothe, “U.S. Service Member Killed, 4 Wounded in Afghanistan Combat, Washington Post, January 2, 2018; “Deadly Suicide Blast Hits Afghan Capital,” Al Jazeera, January 5, 2018.

[f] Hafiz Sayed Khan was killed in July 2016, Abdul Hasib in April 2017, and Abu Sayed in July 2017. “ISIS-K Leader Killed in Afghanistan,” DoD News, Defense Media Activity, July 14, 2017.

[g] The Taliban released a statement in Pashto on the Al Emara website on February 12, 2015, that described how Dadullah had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. Despite the Taliban’s attempt at negotiating with Dadullah to surrender, Dadullah chose to fight, resulting in his death in November 2015. The statement was titled “Second Detailed Statement Released by Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan About Da’esh (IMU) & Mansur Daadullah.”

[h] The Kakar Pashtun tribe belongs to the Ghurghusht Tribal Confederation. The Kakar tribe is dispersed among rural areas of Helmand, Uruzgan, Kandahar, and Zabul provinces, and a much larger population of Kakar is located in the Zhob District of Baluchistan Province, Pakistan. “Kandahar City, Kandahar Province: A TLO District Study,” Tribal Liaison Office, April 2011.

[i] Baz Mohammad defected back to the Taliban in August 2016 and was reportedly appointed as the Taliban shadow governor for Wardak Province as of January 2017. Sami Yusafzai and Jibran Ahmad, “Afghan Taliban’s New Chief Replaces 24 ‘Shadow’ Officials,” Reuters, January 27, 2017; Bill Roggio, “Former Senior Taliban Leader Reconciles with Jihadist Group,” FDD’s Long War Journal, August 10, 2016.

[j] Estimating the IEHCA’s troop strength is difficult given the rate of defections, attrition, and deaths among its members. One analyst estimated that the IEHCA consisted of a fighting force of as many as 15,000 personnel. Khaja Baser Ahmad, “Rebel Groups in Afghanistan: A Run-Through,” Pajhwok Afghan News, October 25, 2017.

[1] United States Senate Committee on Armed Services Hearing to Receive Testimony on the Situation in Afghanistan, February 9, 2017.

[2] Thomas Ruttig, “How Tribal are the Taliban?” Afghan Analysts Network, June 2010.

[3] Matthew C. DuPée, “The Taliban,” World Almanac of Islamism, American Foreign Policy Council, October 1, 2013.

[4] Anand Gopal, “Series Leadership Rifts Emerge in Afghan Taliban, CTC Sentinel 5:11-12 (2012).

[5] Don Rassler, “Situating the Emergence of the Islamic State of Khorasan,” CTC Sentinel 8:3 (2015).

[6] Sudarsan Raghavan, “The Islamic State is Making These Afghans Long for the Taliban,” Washington Post, October 13, 2015; Dawood Azami, “Why Taliban Special Forces are Fighting Islamic State,” BBC, December 15, 2015; “From Poppy to Heroin: ‘Taliban Moving into Afghan Drug Production,’” AFP, August 8, 2017.

[7] “Taliban admit covering up death of Mullah Omar,” BBC, August 31, 2015.

[8] Jibran Ahmad, “Exclusive: Walkout at Taliban Leadership Meeting Raises Specter of Split,” Reuters, July 31, 2015.

[9] “New Taliban Leader Calls For All Foreign Forces To Leave Afghanistan,” Gandhara, September 22, 2015.

[10] Jibran Ahmad, “Afghan Taliban Factions Issue Competing Eid messages,” Reuters, September 22, 2015.

[11] Ashish Kumar Sen, “In Afghanistan, the Taliban Has a New Leader, But it’s His Deputy Who is Raising Eyebrows,” Atlantic Council, July 31, 2015; Ayaz Gul, “Afghan Officials: Haqqani Network Controls Taliban Command,” Voice of America, May 9, 2016.

[12] “Haibatullah Named Taliban’s New Leader,” Tolo News, May 26, 2016.

[13] Sulaiman, “Afghan Taliban Struggling with Leadership Feuds, Other Infighting,” Pakistan Forward, January 26, 2017; Sami Yusafzai and Jibran Ahmad, “Afghan Taliban’s New Chief Replaces 24 ‘Shadow’ Officials,” Reuters, January 27, 2017.

[14] Taimoor Shah, Rod Nordland, and Jawad Sukhanyar, “Afghan Government Quietly Aids Breakaway Taliban Faction,” New York Times, June 19, 2017.

[15] “Islamic State appoints leaders of ‘Khorasan province,’ issues veiled threat to Afghan Taliban,” FDD’s Long War Journal, January 27, 2015.

[16] Rassler.

[17] Borhan Osman, “The Shadows of ‘Islamic State’ in Afghanistan: What Threat Does it Hold?” Afghan Analysts Network, February 12, 2015; Casey Garret Johnson, “The Rise and Stall of the Islamic State in Afghanistan,” United States Institute for Peace, November 2016; Casey Garret Johnson, Masood Karokhail, and Rahmatullah Amiri, “The Islamic State in Afghanistan: Assessing the Threat,” United States Institute of Peace, April 2016.

[18] Borhan Osman, “The Islamic State in ‘Khorasan’: How it Began and Where it Stands Now in Nangarhar,” Afghan Analysts Network, July 27, 2016.

[19] Osman, “The Islamic State in ‘Khorasan;’” Casey Garret Johnson, “The Rise and Stall of the Islamic State in Afghanistan,” United States Institute for Peace, November 2016.

[20] Bill Roggio, “US Kills Islamic State’s Deputy Emir for ‘Khorasan Province’ in Airstrike: Report,” FDD’s Long War Journal, February 9, 2015.

[21] Osman, “The Islamic State in ‘Khorasan.’”

[22] Lauren McNally, Alex Amiral, Marvin Weinbaum, and Antoun Issa, “The Islamic State in Afghanistan Examining its Threat to Stability,” MEI Policy Focus 2016-11, Middle East Institute, May 2016.

[23] Tahir Khan, “Senior Afghan Taliban Leader Killed in Peshawar,” Express Tribune, June 15, 2015.

[24] Lalit K. Jha, “Most TTP fighters Join ISK in Nangarhar: Gen. Nicholson,” Pajhwok Afghan News, September 24, 2016.

[25] “Terror Groups Battle for Osama bin Laden’s Cave Hideout,” Associated Press, June 15, 2017.

[26] Brian Dodwell and Don Rassler, “A View from the CT Foxhole: General John W. Nicholson, Commander, Resolute Support and U.S. Forces-Afghanistan,” CTC Sentinel 10:2 (2017).

[27] Mujb Mashal and Fahim Adeb, “‘Mother of All Bombs’ Killed Dozens of Militants, Afghan Officials Say,” New York Times, April 14, 2017.

[28] Gulabudin Ghubar, “Army Chief Rejects Russia’s Figures On Daesh Fighters,” Tolo News, December 25, 2017.

[29] Antonio Giustozzi, “Taliban and Islamic State: Enemies or Brothers in Jihad?” Center for Research & Policy Analysis, December 14, 2017.

[30] “A Look at Islamic State Attacks in Afghanistan,” Associated Press, December 28, 2017.

[31] Noor Zahid, “Afghan Locals, Taliban Drive Islamic State From Tora Bora Region,” Voice of America, June 9 2017; “Islamic State Beheads 15 of its Own Fighters: Afghan Official,” Reuters, November 23, 2017; Noor Zahid, “Clashes Between IS, Taliban Displace Hundreds in Eastern Afghanistan,” Voice of America, November 26 2017; Mustafa Sarwar, Alem Rahmanyar, and Mohammad Moqim Nahib, “Civilians Recount IS Atrocities In Northern Enclave,” Gandhara, December 27, 2017; “ISIS Claims Several Taliban Insurgents Killed, Wounded in Ghor Clashes,” Khaama Press, August 6, 2017; ‌Zabihullah Ihsas, “’Daesh to be Defeated Like Taliban in the North,’” Pajhwok Afghan News, December 3, 2017; Tamkin, “Daesh Destroys Graves in Jawzjan Cemeteries, Suffers Losses in Clash,” Pajhwok Afghan News, November 19, 2017; Tamkin, “Daesh Foreign Mentors Recruiting Jawzjan Youth,” Pajhwok Afghan News, November 12, 2017; Khan Wali Salarzai, “Kunar Appellant Court Official Shot Dead by Daesh Rebels,” Pajhwok Afghan News, November 18, 2017; Thomas Joscelyn, “Islamic State’s Khorasan ‘Province’ Claims Responsibility for Attack on Cultural Center in Kabul,” FDD’s Long War Journal, December 28, 2017;

[32] Javed Hamim Kakar, “Disaffected Dadullah Denies Joining Daesh After Rumors,” Pajhwok Afghan News, September 17, 2015.

[33] “A Divided Taliban Explained,” Tolo News, December 3, 2015.

[34] “Afghan Taliban Splinter Group Names Mullah Rasool as Leader,” BBC, November 4, 2015.

[35] “Afghan Taliban Splinter Group’s New Chief Backs Islamic State ‘Brothers’ – But Only Abroad,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, November 8, 2015; “Taliban Splinter Group Choose Mullah Rasool as Leader,” Tolo News, November 2, 2015.

[36] Shereena Qazi, “Afghan Taliban Faction Appoints New ‘Supreme Leader,’” Al Jazeera, November 5, 2015.

[37] “Taliban’s Zabul infighting killed and wounded in hundreds,” Pajhwok Afghan News, December 5, 2015; Tahir Khan, “Deputy Leader of Breakaway Taliban Group Killed in Afghanistan: Reports,” Express Tribune, November 12, 2015; Abubakar Siddique, “Taliban Infighting Rife Amid Growing Differences,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, September 3, 2015; “Infighting Kills 15 Taliban In Herat,” Tolo News, August 14, 2015; Bill Roggio, “Rival Taliban Factions Clash in Western Afghanistan,” FDD’s Long War Journal, December 8, 2015; Zainullah Stanikzai, “Infighting Leaves 30 Taliban Dead in Helmand,” Pajhwok Afghan News, May 9, 2016; Storai Karimi, “13 dead, 12 Wounded in Taliban Infighting,” Pajhwok Afghan News, May 14, 2016; “Pro-Rassoul Faction Declares Jihad On Mansour Clan,” Tolo News, May 16, 2016.

[38] Rahim Khan Khoshal, “Deadly Taliban Infighting Underway in Paktika,” Pajhwok Afghan News, February 13, 2016.

[39] Sailab Mehsud, “18 killed in Infighting between Militant Groups of Haqqani Network,” FATA Research Centre, February 9, 2016; Khoshal; “New Taliban Faction Emerges in Paktika,” Tolo News, February 15, 2016.

[40] “Pakistan Arrests Mullah Rasool,” Daily Outlook Afghanistan, March 23, 2016.

[41] Shah, Nordland, and Sukhanyar.

[42] Fabrizio Foschini, “Under the Mountain: A Pre-emptive Taleban Spring Offensive in Shindand,” Afghan Analysts Network, April 20, 2016.

[43] Bill Roggio, “Rival Taliban Factions Clash in Western Afghanistan,” FDD’s Long War Journal, December 8, 2015; “Fight Between Taliban Leaves 13 Dead, 12 Injured in Herat,” Afghanistan Times, May 15, 2016; Noor Zahid, “Dozens of Militants Dead as Taliban Rival Groups Clash in Afghanistan,” Voice of America, October 22, 2017.

[44] “Taliban’s Key Commanders, Shadow District Governor Killed, Wounded in Herat,” Ariana News, December 20, 2017.

[45] “Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) Quarterly Report to U.S. Congress,” October 30, 2017.

[46] Jon Boone and Sami Yousafzai, “Taliban ​Facing Financial Crisis as Civilian Deaths Deter Donors,” Guardian, November 29, 2016.

[47] Yusafzai and Ahmad.

[48] Author interview, Pakistani national in close contact with Afghan Taliban officials, July 2017.

[49] “Mapping Militant Organizations: The Taliban,” Stanford University; Khaja Baser Ahmad.

[50] “Mosque Prayer Leaders Arrested for Involvement in Magnetic Bombings in Kabul,” Khaama Press, August 17, 2017; Sultan Faizy and Shashank Bengali, “Using a Grim New Tactic — the Humvee Bomb — Taliban Kill 43 in Attack on Afghan Army Camp,” Los Angeles Times, October 19, 2017; Gulabudin Ghubar, “Taliban Seizing Humvees To Use as Vehicle Bombs,” Tolo News, October 9, 2017; Ayaz Gul, “Taliban Assaults District Center in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province,” Voice of America, January 30, 2017.


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