Mapping the Taliban
Behind Taliban Lines follows a disparate group of insurgents -- some are Taliban; most are members of warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hezb-i-Islami militia. This small group of fighters represents the war's reality -- inside Afghanistan alone there are well over 150 distinct groups that are considered Taliban, or are aligned with them and/or Al Qaeda. They have different goals, but the one thing that unites them is the war against foreign occupiers. This map highlights some of the Taliban's primary leaders, their areas of operation, and which ones could be potential participants in U.S. reconciliation efforts.
Mullah Mohammad Omar
Mullah Mohammad Omar is the founder and spiritual leader of the Afghan Taliban. After his defeat by U.S.-led forces in 2001, he fled to Pakistan, and most reports say he now controls the group's shura from the Pakistan city of Quetta. In a statement he released last September, he said the Taliban were pursuing a nationalist agenda that would not "cause jeopardy to others." With debate widening over how, or if, the U.S. should reconcile with the Taliban, some analysts saw it as an opening and the Taliban moving away from Al Qaeda's ideology, while others saw it as non-negotiable rhetoric from an extremist group still suspected of harboring bin Laden.
The official line from the White House since March 2009 has been that Mullah Omar and any other hardcore Taliban leaders aligned with Al Qaeda are not reconcilable and won't be part of any deal.
The Taliban was dealt a major blow in February, when Omar's top deputy and military strategist, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, was captured in Karachi by U.S. and Pakistan intelligence. As well as running the day-to-day operations, Baradar had been a key Taliban negotiator in Saudi-brokered peace talks with the Afghan government.
Jalaluddin and Siraj Haqqani
The U.S. military command has called the Haqqani network the single biggest threat to coalition forces in Afghanistan and one of the primary links between Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Siraj Haqqani has slowly assumed control of the network from his father, Jalaluddin Haqqani, who rebuffed the CIA's offer after 9/11 to bring him into a new Afghan government and work with the U.S. against Al Qaeda.
Since then, the Haqqanis have publicly pledged their allegiance to Mullah Omar. In 2004, Siraj told the Asia Times that they would never reconcile without the Afghan Taliban leader's approval.
On Feb. 3, in one of the largest U.S. drone strikes to date, 19 missiles were fired into a village in the Haqqani stronghold of North Waziristan, targeting senior commanders, including Siraj. Reports later said he was not in the area at the time. Pakistan intelligence has been reluctant to turn him over as his network controls large areas of Afghanistan and is considered critical to maintaining Pakistan's influence there after NATO forces leave.
In mid-February, the Pakistani media reported that one of Jalaluddin Haqqani's other sons was killed in a drone attack along with several insurgents.
Behind Taliban Lines focuses on a cell that was largely made up of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hezb-i-Islami militia. The Pashtun commander has re-emerged as a potent force in Afghanistan, with strong support in the north around his native Kunduz province, where Hezb-i-Islami has been gaining ground. Hekmatyar has been a player in Afghan politics since before the Soviet occupation in the 1980s, when he was backed by the U.S. and Pakistan. He briefly served as Afghan prime minister in the mid-1990s and was driven out by the Taliban during the fall of Kabul. After years in exile in Iran before being expelled after 9/11, he is now believed to operate his insurgency from Peshawar in Pakistan.
Although the U.S. has kept Hekmatyar on the terrorist list, President Karzai has been talking with him about a role in Kabul, where the political party Hekmatyar founded in the 1970s holds 19 seats. Considered less ideological than the Taliban -- even though his insurgents fight alongside them -- analysts believe he will hold out for a dominant role in Afghanistan's future.
In a video leaked to The Wall Street Journal in December 2009, Hekmatyar said that once foreign troops leave, he would accept new elections under a caretaker government and the presence of a neutral peacekeeping force.
Baitullah and Hakimullah Mehsud
Before his death in August 2009 in a U.S. drone strike, Baitullah Mehsud led Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, the Pakistani Taliban Movement. The group was formed in late 2007 to help centralize isolated Taliban groups spread across Pakistan's tribal belt. Mehsud's group has wrought havoc in Pakistan, claiming responsibility for the assassination of Benazir Bhutto as well as numerous other attacks striking at the heart of the country's urban centers.
His deputy, Hakimullah Mehsud, took over the organization after Baitullah's death. When video surfaced of Hakimullah with a Jordanian double agent who killed seven CIA officials in a suicide bomb in December, he became the prime target of a series of U.S. drone attacks. Various reports have claimed that Hakimullah died from those attacks, although the Taliban has denied this. Critics say the targeting of Baitullah and Hakimullah Mehsud, and a ground assault by the Pakistan army on their base in south Waziristan, shows that Pakistan is prepared to go after militants threatening to destabilize Pakistan but not those threatening to destabilize Afghanistan.
The Quetta Shura Base of Operations: Quetta, Baluchistan, Pakistan Primary Areas of Combat Operations: Southern Afghanistan provinces of Helmand, Kandahar and ZabulCLICK TO READ MORE AND WATCH VIDEO Jalaluddin and Siraj Haqqani
The Haqqani Network Base of Operations: Miram Shah, North Waziristan, Pakistan Primary Areas of Combat Operations: Khost, Paktia, Paktika, Ghazni, Logar, Wardak, and KabulCLICK TO READ MORE AND WATCH VIDEO Gulbuddin Hekmatyar
Hezb-i-Islami Base of Operations: Peshawar, Northwest Frontier Province, Pakistan Primary Areas of Combat Operations: Kunduz, Baghlan, Kunar, Laghman and KapisaCLICK TO READ MORE AND WATCH VIDEO Baitullah and Hakimullah Mehsud
Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (Pakistani Taliban Movement) Base of Operations: Wana, South Waziristan, Pakistan Primary Areas of Combat Operations: Federally Administered Tribal Areas, PakistanCLICK TO READ MORE AND WATCH VIDEO
Institute for the Study of War, American Enterprise Institute, Jamestown Foundation, Al Jazeera, Asia Times, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, BBC; Harvard Negotiation Law Review, Carnegie Endowment for Peace, The Long War Journal, CounterPunch, Foreign Policy, U.S. State Department, The U.S. Institute for Peace, Council on Foreign Relations, Foreign Policy Research Institute.