When military officials describe the insurgency in Afghanistan they often refer to it as a “syndicate,” or collection of many different fighting groups that typically coalesce for operations and then rapidly disperse. As we’ve come to learn from Iraq and now Afghanistan, clear “chains of command” often don’t exist when fighting today’s networked enemy. “Hydra-headed” is a common description, but actually pretty appropriate when describing insurgent leadership.
Thankfully, the invaluable Bill Roggio over at Long War Journal has put together a detailed analysis of the top leadership, key players and regional military structures of the Afghan wing of the Taliban. Its one of the best open source reports I’ve come across.
Briefly, as I urge you to read and save the link to Roggio’s report, the Afghan Taliban is nominally led by the Quetta Shura (QST) leadership council, based in Quetta, Pakistan. The one-eyed Taliban leader Mullah Omar sits at the top of the QST, but it was the recently seized Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar who was the real operational leader, which is why his capture by Pakistani and U.S. intelligence agents was so significant.
Roggio notes that members of the Taliban’s leadership council are moving from Quetta to the port city of Karachi to avoid increasingly accurate U.S. drone and direct action strikes. That’s bad news. Blending in with a population of some 15 million, many who are refugees from the border fighting and sympathetic to the Taliban, the QST leadership will likely be harder to target in the sprawling city of Karachi than Quetta.
Roggio also provides a list of Taliban leaders who have either been killed or captured, noting:
“The Taliban have a deep bench of leaders with experience ranging back to the rise of the Taliban movement in the early 1990s. On prior occasions, younger commanders are known to have stepped into the place of killed or captured leaders. It remains to be seen if the sustained US offensive and possible future detentions in Pakistan will grind down the Taliban's leadership cadre.”
Another useful link is Roggio’s constantly updated page tracking U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan. There have been 17 strikes carried out so far this year, according to the site.