In the first half of August, Taliban forces toppled the previous, internationally-backed Afghan government in a lightning strike.
It swept Taliban fighters who had spent years “in the mountains” – often a literal euphemism for waging guerrilla warfare – in cities, towns and regular military bases abandoned by former government forces.
Now, the terrorist group wants to build “stronger security forces,” as one Taliban commander told DW.
However, he and the other group leaders struggle to clarify what their objective really is, as their primary enemies have left the battlefield.
“NS [Taliban] Special forces units were set up to fight not only the former government, but any group that poses a risk, such as Daesh,” said Osman Jawahari, a long-serving leader of the Taliban’s special forces in the far eastern Afghan province of Nuristan. The commander told DW.
Daesh is the Arabic abbreviation for the self-declared Islamic State (IS).
Who is the Taliban still fighting in Afghanistan?
While IS has been active in Afghanistan since at least the beginning of 2015, the group is largely confined to Kabul, Nangarhar and Kunar provinces.
In these provinces, the Taliban have conducted operations targeting IS in the past and have continued to do so since taking power.
However, these types of operations are not enough to engage the entire Taliban force. In Nuristan province, IS has not yet claimed or carried out any attacks.
“In Nuristan, there is no Daesh. Currently, there are no enemies around,” said “Janat”, a member of the Taliban’s special forces in Nuristan.
Johri also acknowledged that the threat to the Taliban has diminished. “Compared to before, they are less than 1%,” he said.
However, he added that Afghanistan “needs, like any other country, a strong military” in order to defend itself against anyone who wants to threaten it.
Asked about specific threats to the Taliban’s self-proclaimed “Afghan Emirate”, Johri said, “time will tell.” However, he said the US withdrawal removed the Taliban’s main foreign adversary.
In this context, he also reiterated the Taliban’s official line that the group poses no threat to other countries and that their plans are confined to Afghanistan.
What is Taliban’s plan?
The lack of clarity about the objectives of Taliban forces following the defeat of the Afghan Republic is not limited to Nuristan province.
For example, after the Taliban announced new “martyrdom-seeking” special forces units in the northeastern provinces of Badakhshan, Takhar and Kunduz to protect Afghanistan from “enemies”, local sources in Badakhshan told DW that the Taliban It did not specify who these enemies are and it is unclear what exactly these units are doing.
In the absence of a clear enemy and mission, the men of Nuristan’s Taliban special forces unit are engaged in military training, religious studies, building heavy vehicle training and maintenance, according to one of them. They also patrol, but only around their premises, Johri said.
Taliban forces stand
Although the Taliban announced the commanders of their new military corps on 4 October, the exact composition of the force is unclear.
Jawahar said that before the Taliban took control of the Afghan government, the fighters were in command of a military commission. This Taliban commission was responsible for all Taliban fighters.
Jawahar said, as of the end of September, the fighters were “still awaiting orders whether we would be under the Ministry of Defense or the Ministry of Internal Affairs.”
In the former, fallen government of Afghanistan, the Ministry of Internal Affairs was responsible for maintaining police special forces throughout Afghanistan. In general, the Ministry of Defense did not have a monopoly on the military forces. It remains to be seen whether the Taliban will rule under a similar framework.
An Afghan security analyst told DW under the condition, “While there are many details from across the country about obscure military formations, it is most visible in Kabul, for example, with multiple commanders for the same area or issue.” claim to be responsible.” of anonymity for security reasons.
“When these commanders come from different regions of the country – which is common – competing claims can result in political, sometimes even violent, disputes,” the analyst said.
Elizabeth Threlkeld, director of the South Asia program at the Stimson Center in Washington DC, told DW that “the transition from combat to regime is particularly challenging for groups like the Taliban’s special forces.”
“They were instrumental in achieving the Taliban’s military objectives, but their future mission is less clear now that the war has largely been won. While the Taliban have proven adept at maintaining solidarity, there is a need to continue to do so. For this their future role will need to be defined,” she said.