Strategy of the Taliban

The ongoing Taliban insurgency does not display any signs of fading. This analyses tries to present overall strategy of Taliban with special regard to its enemy-centric and people centric approach. The origins and ideology of Taliban area discussed as well as its perspectives.


The overall insurgency in Afghanistan is “the Taliban dominated”. The Taliban is just one of the opposition armed groups within “the insurgency” fighting[1] against the incumbent government of President Hamid Karzai and coalition’s International Assistance Security Force in the country. Unfortunately, the amounts of reports from Afghanistan and surrounding region (especially Pakistan) have led to the creation of confusing scheme of local insurgencies. First of all, the Taliban is not a monolithic group – it’s a movement, which some other armed groups are affiliated to. The confusion of the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistani Taliban and putting these two groups under one meaning is misleading. Hence, for getting better and more proper and detailed insight into (followed by proper understanding of) the complex situation in Afghanistan, it is necessary to analyze who the Taliban really are, what the movement wants and which means – strategies, tactics – it uses in order to achieve its goals.

The structure of this final paper is following: it will be divided into several chapters. First short three chapters will be dedicated to the Taliban movement – its main basic characteristics, origins, history and ideology. The pivotal chapters about the Taliban’s strategy will follow. It will be distinguished between enemy-centric and population-centric strategies. For completion of the analysis of the strategy of the Taliban, next chapter will dwell on the strategic partnership of the movement. Last chapter will provide brief draft of the possible perspectives on the Taliban and their strategy.

As for the methodology, this paper is a case-study, using descriptive and analytical methods. Concerning the sources that will be used, there are plenty of electronic and secondary sources available, such as several analyses, expert articles etc. Importantly, there are some primary sources, based on the field researches of several scholars that provide a good tool for setting the sufficient framework of this final paper. However these are in the vast majority in an electronic form.

The very aim of this final paper is to analyze strategy of the Taliban movement, to identify main aspects and also to draw up the outline of possible perspectives of the Taliban and their strategy. This final paper has no ambitions in providing comprehensive analysis of the Taliban’s strategy, mainly due to the limited extent of the paper. It is a really complex topic, linking many aspects to each other. The paper just aims to show a basic strategic framework of the given topic, based on several most important elements of the Taliban’s strategy. The author deliberately didn’t include the issue of propagandistic efforts of the Taliban, even though it is an essential part of their strategy.

Who are the Taliban?

The Taliban are Muslim fundamentalist movement of the religious and military nature. An estimated number of its members is something about 36,000. The Taliban movement is primarily made up of members belonging to Pashtun tribes, which the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan. The main leader of the Taliban movement is Mullah Mohammed Omar. He enjoys a title of Amir al-Momineen (Commander of the Faithful)[2]. Mullah Omar is rather the spiritual leader than military one. While in power in Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, the Taliban enforced very rigid interpretation of Sharia law, under which it publicly executed criminals and outlawed the education of women, required women to wear head-to-toe veils, banned television, and jailed men whose beards were deemed too short. The Taliban became notorious internationally for general manner of their treatment of women or destroying of Bamyan Buddha statutes on March 21, 2001 (Bruno, Kaplan 2009).

We can distinguish the Old and the New Taliban nowadays. The Old Taliban represents a so-called traditional form of insurgency, while the New Taliban represents an almost ideal example of the hybrid non-state actor using violence (Janků, Zelinka 2009: 48-49). Then, there are the Afghan Taliban (the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan) and the Pakistani Taliban (Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan or the Islamic Emirate of Waziristan). Pakistani Taliban is organizationally distinct from the Afghan Taliban, their agenda and goals as well as history and leadership greatly differs from each other, although they share a common interpretation of Islam and are both predominantly Pashtun. The Afghan Taliban have got no direct or strong affiliation with the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (see Bajoria 2011). In this final paper the focus and attention will be given to the Afghan Taliban.

The regime of the Taliban in Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 is titled as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.[3] The movement still uses this term while denominating themselves. The Quetta shura[4] is the Afghan Taliban leadership council, based in the Pakistani city of the same name. It provides direction to the four regional military shuras and the 10 committees. Over the past several months, members of the Quetta Shura have been reported to be relocating to Karachi to avoid potential US drone strikes (Roggio 2010).

According to the typology elaborated by Steven Metz in 1993, the Taliban fulfill the indicators of spiritual insurgency and ‘the Search for Meaning’ (i.e. rejection of a regime and, more broadly, of the social, economic, and political system associated with that regime; in most cases, this system is derived from the Western model; insurgents often blame imported Western ideas and practices–borrowed and imperfectly applied by the local elite–for the discontent, misery, and frustration which accompanies modernization) (Metz 1993).

According to the typology of Bard E. O’Neill from 2005, the Taliban represents a reactionary-traditionalist insurgency, which is defined by rigid adherence to applying of Islamic law Sharia and the principles of Quran. It is a sub-type of traditionalist insurgency type, that maintains the aim of establishing own regime governed by small, centralized groups, often using means as demonization and dishumanization of their opponents (O’Neill 2005: 21-23).

There are three essential forms of the nature of the Taliban throughout their history: 1. from September 1994 to September 1996 the Taliban acted as militia, 2. from September 1996 to December 2001 the Taliban governed Afghanistan as a regular (although not internationally recognized) government, and 3. from 2004 to present the Taliban are characterized as insurgency[5] by their nature.

History and origins

The origins of the Taliban lie in the Pakistani madrassas (Islamic religious schools) where students received an education primarily of religious nature and greatly influenced by the Deobandi movement[6]. In 1991, the Taliban – a movement originating from Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-run[7] religious schools set up for Afghan refugees in Pakistan – also developed in Afghanistan as a politico-religious force, reportedly in opposition to the tyranny of the local governor. Naturally, the religious philosophy of the Pakistani madrassas has strongly shaped the Taliban’s agenda and ideology. First major military activity of the Taliban can be identified in 1994 (Saikal 2006). Even the Taliban’s name reflected its roots in madrassas – the word “Taliban” is a Persian pluralization of the Arab word “Talib”, which means a (religious) student.

The Taliban is usually considered as a proxy force for Pakistan’s regional interests. The Taliban have ever received valuable training, supplies, and arms from the Pakistani army and (primarily) the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI)[8]. Generally, from 1994 onwards Pakistan has been the force behind the Taliban (Bruno, Kaplan 2009). On 27th September 1996 the Taliban took control over Kabul – the Afghan capital and established the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. The regime was overthrown in December 2001 by US-led invasion into Afghanistan.


The Taliban’s ideology is an Islamist one. It is a strict and anti-modern ideology, a mixture of social alienation and ideologization. It combines Deobandi fundamentalism with strict observance of the norm called Pashtunwali[9]. Simply, the Taliban’s ideology is an innovative form of Sharia combining Pashtun tribal codes. Moreover, some influence of the ideology of Jihadism and pan-Islamism of Osama bin Laden can be identified as well (Johnson, Mason 2007).

The main objective of the Taliban from the very beginning of their activity was to take Kabul and build an Islamic Emirate based on Sharia (Fergusson 2010).

Strategy of the Taliban – enemy-centric

According to Bard O’Neill’s typology, the Taliban’s strategy is a military-focused one.[10] The Taliban fight against the government of the President Hamid Karzai as well as against foreign NATO troops deployed in the country.

As for the enemy-centric approach of the Taliban’s strategy, the Taliban is a local insurgent movement whose main enemy is the Afghan government, rather than the international coalition forces. However, sometimes civilians are targeted as well, mostly as a result of terrorist tactics – IEDs or suicide bombings.

There are several main principles of the overall strategy of the Taliban (despite the increases in ISAF troop strength). First of all, the Taliban seek to increase base of their support (particularly through expanding into western and northern parts of Afghanistan or to regain lost territory in the South); then to counter ISAF expansion in the country and to cause casualties (especially in the ranks of coalition forces, Afghan security forces and Afghan government); further to undermine efforts of good government from the side of the Afghan government; to consolidate Command and Control structures and capabilities, especially in the eastern parts of Afghanistan, and regain the lost territory in the southern provinces; to strengthen leadership and unity of effort throughout the country, to increase aggressiveness during the spring and summer fighting season after a rather untraditional winter, when the Taliban’s activity didn’t decreased rapidly as in previous years; and to increase influence around major urban cities, especially of the capital Kabul and southern Kandahar city. (ISAF 2009, modified by IH)

In general, the Taliban’s strategy is based on its exploiting of social and political issues and accurate and flexible adaptation of the insurgency to various local conditions (Dorronsoro 2009: 12-19). Moreover, the capability of the Taliban to prepare complex operation in the environment of populous city is still persisting. Even ISAF itself admits, the Afghan insurgency is loosely organized, increasingly effective, but also growing more cohesive. This means that the links among several insurgent groups in Afghanistan are becoming more direct, boosted and used more frequently and effectively (ISAF 2009). Furthermore, perceived insurgent success will draw more foreign fighters to the Afghanistan theater.

As for the tactics that the Taliban are using, it is necessary to distinguished between the Old Taliban and the New Taliban[11] at this point. According to Antonio Giustozzi there is a small, but important difference between the Old Taliban and the New Taliban – where the Old Taliban leadership relied on a rigid and doctrinaire interpretation of the Quran and a major unskilled use of rifles and other small arms, the New Taliban has is more flexible in implementing strict interpretations of Sharia law, when and how it suits their purposes, but more importantly, the New Taliban has also embraced new strategies and technologies (including computers) to make their efforts succeed (Giustozzi 2008). The greatest successes of the New Taliban have been probably effects of three things: 1. the leadership of the New Taliban exploited the political weaknesses of the Afghan government, mainly in the relationship between the central and local government structures; 2. the New Taliban willingly adopted new strategies and tactics in fighting whatever amounted to the Afghan army, its militias, and its foreign supporters; and 3. they confronted an inconsistent and ineffective counter-insurgency strategy against them, one that changed almost every six months for the last several years (Ibid). Simply, the Old Taliban is the original movement, governing in Afghanistan in 1990s, whereby the New Taliban has started emerging after the 2001 invasion and regrouping in Pakistani border tribal areas, roughly in 2004.[12] Speed, surprise, mobility and flexibility are integral factors in asymmetric warfare that the Taliban is engaged in. Favored tactics include ambush, sabotage, roadside bombings and assassination. Newly, the Taliban also dispose of some anti-aircraft guns (posing a possible threat to helicopters). Excellent lines of communication have been established as well. The AK-47 and improvised explosives devices are the most common tools of the variety of the Taliban’s assaults, along with mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and suicide-bomb vests filled with explosives, that are mostly made out of ammonium nitrate (the same as IEDs). In some cases the use of typically terrorist tactics can be seen as well. Most frequent attacks have the form of explosions – IEDs, car-bombs, suicide bombings.[13] The contemporary Afghan insurgents are avoiding set-piece battles (Poole 2004: 130). It is essentially a guerrilla form of warfare marked by hit-and-run tactics in rural areas and IED blasts in urban areas in order to embroil the state/international forces bit-by-bit, lower their morale and gain moral as well as operational ascendancy (Khan 2010).

Recently, as the new spring offensive of the Taliban has started,[14] it seems that the insurgents have adopted two new significant tactics – 1. infiltration of the Afghan National Security Forces’ ranks and attack inside reportedly secured compounds of the government of security forces bases and targeting high-ranking officials[15] (e.g. BBC 2010); and 2. carrying a commando-style raids on significant government, police or military facilities (e.g. Reichmann 2011). The Taliban focus mainly on infiltration of security forces now based on the perceived logic that these attacks inflict more casualties to the enemy[16] and does not inflict any civilian casualties. Some reports also occurred showing that the Taliban use a tactics of intentional-made injuries for identification of coalition’s medical evacuation routes and alike.

The very advantage of the Taliban lies in their raw instinctive local knowledge against forces of much greater number and firepower.

Contemplating the worst and most dangerous possible scenario of pursuing the Taliban’s strategy shall include several aspects: 1. insurgents would seek to increase pressure, to destroy ISAF and to punish population in the large scale manner; 2. the Taliban’s operations would seek to more aggressively contest ISAF and to inflict casualties if forces withdraw, to significantly increase high profile attacks in urban areas, to foster ethnic rivalries in north and west and to impose Sharia law in areas they dominate along with the punishment of ISAF supporters; 3. the impacts of these features would be reduced security in population centers, significant loss of international support, open popular frustration with the central Afghan government, popular enmity toward Afghan National Security Forces and the opening of fighting between ethnic groups, drawing in regional benefactors (ISAF 2009). Obviously, some of the aspects of this possible scenario can be identified even in contemporary situation in Afghanistan. It should be prevented from further escalation.

Naturally, the Taliban’s overreaching goals are to expel foreign (coalition forces from Afghanistan, to undermine the authority of the central Afghan government[17] and overall perceptions of security, and to establish an Islamic Sunni state under the rule of the Taliban’s Supreme Leader Mullah Mohammed Omar (Ibid).

Strategy of the Taliban – population-centric

There are two ways of Taliban’s strategy to the Afghan population – one is to fill a vacuum of the absence of security from operations of various armed militias and groups in Afghanistan and law enforcement structures, notably police and judges. The Taliban also exploits a burning problem of pervasive corruption in the country, inadequate governance as well as abuse of power (Dorronsoro 2009: 17-19). Importantly, the Taliban offers speedy justice without the need of paying bribes, which the government does not (Barker 2009). However, the Taliban also use intimidation, kidnapping, assassinations and other violent means for divert the population from supporting the Afghan government and ISAF troops.

Basically, the insurgents’ strength is enabled by the government’s weaknesses. The most significant features of the overall government’s weakness are incomplete and sometimes even ineffective promised infrastructure projects, Karzai government is universally seen as corrupt and ineffective and crime and corruption pervasive among security forces. The Taliban want to be perceived as fair and uncorrupt within the local population (ISAF 2009). Perceiving al-Qaeda as the Taliban’s “handicap” by the movement itself is becoming more prevalent too.

Population-centric approach of the Taliban’s strategy is based on several main elements. These are building an alternative administration (political, judiciary system), subversion of traditional tribal structures, establishment of anticorruption committees and courts. The Taliban also enjoy leverage of tribal influence to gain popular support. The movement seeks to delegitimize participation in the Afghan government by all possible means (Dorronsoro 2009: 12-19).

Within their population-centric strategy the Taliban issue directives, i.e. ‘Taliban Code of Conduct’. It is being published by Taliban leadership. For example in 2009 Mullah Mohammed Omar’s COIN guidance set reiterated prohibitions on the following: mistreating population, forcibly taking personal weapons, taking children to conduct Jihad, punishment by maiming, forcing people to pay donations or searching homes and kidnapping people for money (The NEFA Foundation 2009). As obvious, not all directives are strictly obeyed. Main intentions of the given Mullah Omar’s guidance were that the Taliban don’t have to beat ISAF militarily, they shall just outlast international will to remain in Afghanistan, further to continue population outreach and protection programs, to continue successful asymmetric operations, to expand lethal IED and high-profile attacks to deny ISAF freedom of movement, to emphasize increasing violence in northern and western Afghan districts, to demonstrate own reach and perceived control of all Afghanistan and to make the main enemy the US (ISAF 2009).

The Taliban have also established a nationwide system of the logistics as well as impressive intelligence network (Dorronsoro 2009: 8).

The Taliban focus on their political goals first of all. The movement is looking toward “post-ISAF Afghanistan”. The Taliban’s renewed focus on becoming a legitimate government can be identified. The Taliban’s shadow administration holds portfolios similar to their previous ones. Actually, the center of gravity of the Taliban’s actions is the population, not the IED.

Strategic partnerships of the Taliban

For the proper analysis of the Taliban’s strategy it is efficient to mention that the Taliban retains required partnerships to sustain support, fuel legitimacy and bolster capacity (ISAF 2009).

On the domestic level the Taliban try to overcome traditional tribal structures, mainly through highlighting Mullah Omar’s Islamic credentials as a leverage, and exploit government corruption and major flows as well as drawbacks of the international community in order to generate funds, gain access, and secure own position (Ibid).

On the regional/international level the Taliban hold a vision that if they return to power, the movement will reestablish improved contacts and good relations with Islamic and regional states. The Taliban also seek not to antagonize (particularly) neighboring Pakistan and Iran in order to maintain safe havens or support systems (Ibid).

Moreover the Taliban cooperate with several non-state actors too – there are other insurgent or terrorist groups, enjoying mutually beneficial relationship with the Taliban. The Taliban also cooperate with new, difficult identified armed groups, whose members include even criminals. First of all, the Taliban manage relationship with Pakistani militant groups to encourage reduced attacks in Pakistan, but on the other hand to encourage support for insurgent efforts in Afghanistan. Mutually supportive relationship with Chechen and Central Asian fighters (of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan in particular) can be identified too. As for the ties with al-Qaeda, the Taliban manage the relations in the pattern of avoiding alienating Afghan population, but also to encourage support (facilitation, training, some funding, provides also small units for the fight in Afghanistan) from global Jihad network. In exchange, al-Qaeda relies on using of insurgent safe havens in Pakistani FATA[18] region (Ibid).[19]

As for the funding of the Taliban, external-funding flow is top-down, while internal funding flows in bottom-up direction, providing the Taliban a consistent stream of money to sufficiently fund operations. The main sources of internal founding are a significant amount of money from opium trade, parallel taxation, effective usage of ‘narcotic nexus’ as well as (maybe a little bit surprisingly) corruption (Ibid). Concerning external funds, they originate in Islamic states and are delivered via couriers and hawalas[20]. Western aid money is now one of the insurgents’ main sources of income (i.e. Leonzzon 2011).[21]

Recruitment of new fighters is provided by retaining the religious high-ground. From about 2006, the recruitment patterns were widened, in line with the Taliban’s relative success on the battlefield. In addition to spreading their influence at village level, there were apparently attempts to recruit in the cities, including in universities, and to reach out to former mujahidin commanders on a larger scale than before. However, overall recruitment and mobilization patterns remain with a strong ethnic dimension: The Taliban’s core recruitment base continues to be rural Pashtuns from southern and south-eastern Afghanistan. To a lesser degree, they have started to also include rural Pashtun communities in the north of the country (Stenersen 2010: 30). Further, the Taliban maintain an ability to recruit from frustrated population through exploiting poverty, tribal friction, and lack of governance. The ability of the Taliban to recruit new members in more distant locations, such as in Europe or in the US are being discussed, along with the alleged recruitment of children and even women into the ranks of the Taliban.

Perspectives of the Taliban

Reconciliation efforts continue, but it has not proven to be productive yet, the same is with the reintegration program. Both efforts are put on highly expectations, but the reality is a little bit different. But if the Taliban gain at least partial power over the country, it is not much probable that the Afghanistan will become a safe haven for al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups, because the Taliban are learning from their mistakes and once their alliance with the terrorist network was vital for their rule, the Taliban will spare to provide al-Qaeda with rear again.

Recently, the Taliban expressed condemnation of the act of imposing no-fly zone over Libya, which can be also understood as an attempt to gain support among countries dissonant to the no-fly zone. But any real outcomes of this act will be rather insignificant. The impacts of the killing Osama bin Laden on the Taliban’s strategy and the overall situation in Afghanistan are being discussed. However, it seems that the most probable scenario is that the Taliban will try to demonstrate their strength and ability to strike with the number of high intensity attacks on significant/strategic targets. Over the last weeks there has been a dramatic escalation in the frequency of attacks in Afghanistan nationwide. However, any significant insurgents’ setback should not be expected. The Afghan Taliban, in contrast to the Pakistani Taliban, haven’t come up with a dominantly strong reaction to the US raid that killed bin Laden,[22] once a mentor and source of financial sustenance to their regime. Generally, the death of Osama bin Laden should make it easier for the Taliban to break ties with al-Qaeda (which actually is one of the fundamental pre-conditions for including the Taliban in any eventual political settlement in Afghanistan). It’s supposed that the links between al-Qaeda and the Taliban were of a personal nature, and not institutional, although they probably share training camps in Pakistan. Al-Qaeda plays rather a supportive role in Afghanistan theatre nowadays, when there operates just estimated 50 to 100 al-Qaeda members. However, the Taliban has gone through relatively significant process of internal differentiation, when one branch of the Taliban fighters insists on the original idea of fight against foreign troops in Afghanistan as well as against the government of the President Karzai (simply to focus just on “Afghan matters”), whereas the second branch within the Taliban have adopted the global Jihad ideology. This fact is deeply related to the reconciliation efforts. So the existence of highly fragmented insurgency is as well. It’s not clear what factions of the Afghan insurgency are willing to participate in negotiations and reconciliation efforts. Recently, some reports claiming the direct talks of the US and the Taliban occurred. However, the reliability of them is rather disputable, because the US officials don’t want to provide any comments on this issue and the Taliban has strongly rejected these claims. We can just think about whether the reports are goal-directed disinformation intended to weaken the Taliban fighters’ morale or whether they are based on true events. However, even if the Quetta Shura is involved in any talks like this, the problems of the Afghan insurgency will not be solved.

As for the reintegration program efforts, their effectiveness is disputable, because there is a bidirectional fluctuation – a number of mid- and low-level Taliban members joined the program, but on the other hand a number of the Afghan security forces’ members defect to the Taliban. However, the overall success of reintegration is not much probable, partly because of the nature of set pre-conditions for it (i.e. breaking ties with al-Qaeda, putting down weapons and the respect for contemporary Afghan constitution that ensures some basic rights for women). Moreover, there is not an absolute need for the Taliban to participate in any negotiations, because the July 2011 term, set by President Obama as the start of bringing US troops home, can be considered by the Taliban as an assurance that they just need to wait when the foreign troops leave Afghanistan, regardless the declaratory speeches of their long-term commitment in the country. This view is shared by the ordinary Afghans as well what plays into the cards of the Taliban. Moreover, the Taliban can easily exploit the growing public anger over the civilian casualties as a result of NATO airstrikes and Special Forces night raids, as the movement reportedly did during the protests against the Quran burning, when some Taliban members (who had reportedly taken part in reconciliation program) were allegedly involved as instigators of violence in the protests, as the same in case of the recent protests held in northern Afghanistan over the killings of innocent civilians during one of the coalition forces’ night raids.[23] Actually, if it’s true or not does not matter much, more important is the growing disaffection of the Afghan population with the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan as well as with the inadequate and ineffective governance of the corrupt President Karzai’s administration, what possibly can strengthen the Taliban’s position. Furthermore, generally, the Afghan National Security Forces are not ready for the security handover and the Taliban would seek to demonstrate that.

Very significantly, the recent jailbreak from Sarposa prison in Kandahar may have serious impact on the Taliban’s fight and for the security situation in Afghanistan, or at least in Kandahar, because a number of experienced and skilled Taliban commanders have got free.

The loss of support from Pakistan for the Taliban is not much probable too, at least as long as the Taliban could be used as leverage to counterweight the influence of India in Afghanistan. Major blow for the Taliban could come with the resolving of the Kashmir dispute, however, this scenario is not probable in a short-term period. Generally accepted, Pakistan is the only force to get the Taliban to the negotiation table.

Recently, Kazakhstan has decided to send a contingent to Afghanistan. Let’s see what impacts this step will have for the Taliban strategy, particularly in relation to the perceptions of the Afghan citizens, because involvement of Kazakhstan – a Muslim state – can in a way legitimize international coalition as itself. However, on the other hand, the involvement of Russia, even in a supportive role, may have an opposite effect, mainly due to the historical implications.

Suggestions about targeted killing of Mullah Omar, similar to the killing of Osama bin Laden, have emerged. However, there would probably be no significant impact on the Taliban, because Mullah Omar is primarily a spiritual leader of the movement. Potentially, such action could have a counterproductive effect in strengthening the more extremist branch of the Taliban.

The issue how the Taliban’s strategy would change facing a changed strategy of the US, when the country would focus on targeted counter-terrorism operations instead of current troop-intensive counterinsurgency-style strategy, is worth contemplating too, as well as the option of establishing permanent US military bases in Afghanistan. It is not ever probable, that the Taliban would ever accept this step, likewise regional players with strategic interests in Afghanistan, such as Iran.


To sum up, the Taliban’s strategy can be considered as rather effective, mainly thanks to the overall, complex situation in Afghanistan. There are many phenomenon coexisting and mutually fueling each other – there are strong tribal structures, inadequate governance performed by the corrupt government, strong proliferation of armed groups and bands, warlordism, poppy-growing connected to the activities of organized crime groups, low literacy rates, lack of basic services and the strategic interests of many countries and actors first of all. The Taliban represent an existential threat to Afghanistan.

In Afghanistan all the dynamics enabling the insurgency remain and it’s probable that the dynamics will sustain at least for a several months. At this point it is really hard to evaluate the effects of the surge of US troops in Afghanistan. The Taliban has opened new fronts in the north and west of the country, while being pressed in the southern provinces – the Taliban’s former hotbed. We also saw a continuing fighting and attacks this winter, which was rather unusual. Now it’s hard to say whether it’s so due to the winning nature of the implemented strategy of the insurgency or due to the fact, that in general, when insurgents feel pressed, they behave more aggressively.

The Taliban are still capable of strategic planning and coordinated action, they are still able to strike at will including at the heart of the Afghan government often in its most heavily-guarded bases. Constantly, we are witnessing the full-scale Taliban insurgency. Maybe the Taliban seek to speed up the (reportedly awaited) withdrawal of coalition troops. The effectiveness of drone strikes on the Taliban’s hideouts in Pakistan as well as of kill or capture operations is being highlighted, along with the discovery and subsequent destruction of caches of weapons, explosives or opium during the winter, but the Taliban will surely want to demonstrate their ability to gain lost territory, particularly in the southern provinces of Afghanistan, back. President Karzai offers some sort of power-sharing deal with the Taliban. But the requirements of the Taliban in exchange for taking part in the power-sharing deal are not clear (expect of the pre-condition of the foreign troops’ withdrawal from Afghanistan). However, importantly, reconciliation talks with the Taliban represent a necessary, but not sufficient condition for peace in Afghanistan.

The Taliban’s strategy is built upon subversion of the Afghan government, its defects and failures (such as inadequate governance, corruption, negligent provision of basic services, inefficiency in ensuring security etc.) as well as some of drawbacks of the coalition troops (killing of civilian in particular). The Taliban focuses mainly on the political aspects of their strategy. Very significant features of their strategy is the ability to provide quick justice without the need to pay bribes. From the security perspective, there are many armed militias operating in Afghanistan and the Taliban are, actually, able to provide at least some level of perceived security to local population. The true is that ordinary Afghans fear even the regular Afghan police corps, because their members often behave like bandits or criminals. On the other hand, the strict Islamist ideology along with deadly attack often targeting civilians themselves place the Taliban into position of unacceptable legitimate leaders still among the big part of Afghan population as well as for the international community.

Since 2001, the Taliban have changed their behavior vis-a-vis the reconstruction – their overall policy has started to be to present themselves as a parallel government that is good for people. Nevertheless, recently, the Taliban have modified their tactics from holding ground and trying to be the shadow government in a large part of the province and directly challenging the authorities with formed units to using ‘intimidation tactics’.

It seems that organizational capabilities and operational reach of the Taliban have geographically and qualitatively expanded and there is a much greater frequency of attacks at varied locations nationwide. The Taliban put one of the main emphasizes on their media campaign and speed and decisiveness of their information operations. The strength and ability of the Taliban’s shadow governance is still relatively high. But on the other hand the Taliban have suffered a rather serious damage by the number of it mid-level members captured or killed. Reportedly, the movement is also short of it sources, because it has over-relied on external sources of funding and right this aspect probably is the place where the killing of Osama bin Laden is going to come out. The Taliban are also primarily dependent on many marginalized segments of Pashtun population. It will heavily depend on how the Taliban will mobilize the support regardless the ethnic or tribal lines. One of the important Taliban’s strengths is the perception that their victory is inevitable.

If the strategy pursued by the Taliban in Afghanistan is the successful insurgency strategy only time can show. However, unless there is any significant change (even of a single element) in a pervasive complex system in Afghanistan’s theater, overall local situation seems more than a kind of deadlock or never-ending spiral. The perception of instability in Afghanistan is still high.


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Schmidle, N. (2008): Next-Gen Taliban. New York Times, Magazine. On-line text, available at www: (May 29, 2011).

Stenersen, A. (2010): The Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan – organization, leadership and worldview. On-line text, available at www: (May 29th, 2011).

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[1] Besides the Taliban, there are groups like the Haqqani network, Hezbe-e Islami Gulbuddin, Hezbe-e Islami Khalis, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, reportedly even Lashkar-e Islam or Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (which is suspected to have at least some sanctuary and logistical base in the eastern Afghan provinces, such as Kunar or Nuristan). (ISAF 2009)

[2] Commander of the Faithful is a rarely invoked religious title that dates from around the time of the Prophet Mohammed (Global Security 2011a).

[4] Shura is a leadership council. Quetta Shura Taliban is being used too.

[5] As stated above, several factions within the Taliban movement have undergone a process of hybridization, most notably the Haqqani network.

[6] It is a Sunni religious movement. The Deobandi interpretation holds that a Muslim’s first loyalty is to his religion and only then to the country of which he is a citizen or a resident; secondly, that Muslims recognize only the religious frontiers of their Ummah and not the national frontiers; thirdly that they have a sacred right and obligation to go to any country to wage Jihad to protect the Muslims of that country. (Global security 2011b)

[7] Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam is a hard-line Islamist party, widely considered a political front for numerous jihadi organizations, including the Taliban (Schmidle 2008).

[8] ISI is the Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency.

[9] It is a non-written social and cultural ethical code and traditional life-style which the indigenous Pashtun people from Afghanistan and Pakistan follow. The word Pashtunwali itself literally means “to do Pashtun” or “the way of the Pashtun” (Cathell 2009).

[10] Potential indicators of this insurgent approach are presence of leaders and combatants, but little, if any, cadre or mass base (US Department of the Army 2007: 114).

[11] Or the Neo-Taliban.

[12] The Taliban use suicide bombing tactics since roughly 2004 that have more psychological effects than any strategic impact (it’s a kind of an innovative tactics from Iraq insurgency).

[13] This part of analysis is based on the synthesis of data collected by the author of this final paper from various newspaper articles about a number of committed Taliban’s attacks, not on one source.

[14] Codenamed as Badr after of the Prophet Mohammad’s decisive military victories (Reichmann 2011).

[15] These attacks have a major propaganda impact overseas.

[16] Typically, even predominantly Afghan bases and many smaller outposts have some NATO troops partnered with the Afghans (Rubin 2011).

[17] Its official title is GIRoA – Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.

[18] Federally Administrated Tribal Areas

[19] For more information about the relations between al-Qaeda and the Taliban see above mentioned publication of James Fergusson or the publication Al-Qaeda: The true Story of Radical Islam by James Burke (2004).

[20] Hawala is an alternative or parallel remittance system. It exists and operates outside of, or parallel to traditional banking or financial channels. Hawala works by transferring money without actually moving it. In fact, ‘money transfer without money movement’ is a definition of hawala. Hawala can, and does, play a role in money laundering. (Jost, Sandhu 2000)

[21] For more information see for example Anne Stenersen’s analysis The Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan – organization, leadership and worldview available at: (May 29th, 2011).

[22] Interestingly, the Taliban issued a statement about the martyrdom of Osama bin Laden and provided an ‘analysis’ about his death of the situation in Afghanistan, available at (May 29, 2011).

[23] Recently, President Karzai ordered the Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak to take control of so-called ‘arbitrary operations by foreign forces’ saying Afghan troops should be carrying out the sensitive operation themselves. NATO considers ‘night raids’ (or targeted, intelligence-driven operations) as critical in their fight against the Taliban and that Afghan are always present in NATO-led operations. Karzai has also “banned” any coalition airstrikes, but his mandate to issue such order is not clear.


Autor: Iveta Hlouchova, studentka Bezpečnostních a strategických studií, FSS MU.


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