The Afghan government is funding a breakaway faction of the Taliban to wreak havoc within the broader insurgent movement, The New York Times reports.
The faction is known as “The Renouncers” and is led by Taliban cleric Mullah Mohammad Rasoul, who publicly split from the Taliban in 2015 amid a major leadership dispute. The Afghan government is reportedly supplying the group with weapons and intelligence to spawn conflict with the mainstream Taliban in Helmand province.
Helmand is a historic base of operations for the Taliban the site of significant fighting between the Afghan National Security Forces and the Taliban. Since the end of the U.S. combat mission in 2014, the Taliban have essentially pushed the Afghan National Security Forces out of nearly 90% of the province. The government continues to control the capital city, but it is effectively under siege and constant attack.
The Taliban have shown concern over the renouncers given their ability to dress similarly and espouse a similar message of Islamic extremism. The renouncers claimed the mainstream Taliban “are afraid of us, because we are enhancing our influence in Helmand and the people realize now the Taliban are getting financial support from Iran and Russia,” in a statement to The New York Times.
The Afghan government’s ability to stoke conflict within the Taliban essentially mimics the insurgent group’s most effective tactic against the Afghan National Security Forces. Insider attacks by Taliban forces on Afghan and U.S. troops remains one of the biggest threats in the war.
The tactic of supplying the breakaway faction may however come back to haunt the Afghan National Security Forces. The group is committed to the establishment of an Islamic emirate of Afghanistan and has not reconciled with the Afghan government. The group has also pursued suicide bombing tactics and could use its weapons in the future on the Afghan National Security Forces or U.S. forces.
Helmand province’s near complete fall and the Afghan government’s last ditch efforts to stave off disaster come as the Trump administration considers sending thousands more U.S. troops to Afghanistan. The troops would reportedly embed with the Afghan National Security Forces at lower levels in places like Helmand to turn the tide of the war and reverse catastrophic losses.
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