A breakaway faction of the Taliban reaffirmed its allegiance to the main terrorist movement, which may threaten U.S. gains on the Afghan battlefield, The Wall Street Journal reports.
The Taliban movement fractured after it revealed its founder and longtime leader Mullah Omar died in 2013. The Taliban’s deputy leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour hid Omar’s death from the broader movement, and used the time to coalesce power around himself. After the revelation, Mansour assumed power, prompting several Omar loyalists to split away from the Taliban.
The Afghan government encouraged the split, believing it would lessen the battlefield effectiveness of the Taliban. Despite internal political divisions, the Taliban has made unprecedented gains against the Afghan National Security Forces. The terrorist group controls more territory than at any time since 2001.
The U.S. killed Mansour in a drone strike in late May, hoping his death would lessen the movements battlefield effectiveness. Instead, the Taliban picked a well respected Islamic scholar, Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada, who vowed to continue the war against the U.S.-backed Afghan government.
Akhundzada’s leadership is off to a good start, the Taliban is besieging a major strategic city in the south, and the affirmation of the breakaway faction’s loyalty to him will provide even more fighters.
In a statement regarding the breakaway faction’s reconciliation, the Taliban said,“[They] decided following a detailed discussion to maintain the unity of the Islamic Emirate (Taliban),” according to WSJ.
The Taliban is in the midst of one of its most successful battlefield campaigns ever, reversing a decade of NATO gains in southern Helmand province.
Helmand was the site of the most bitter fighting of the Afghan war, with hundreds of U.S. and British soldiers dying between 2001 and 2014. The Afghan defense forces have withdrawn from every major city in Helmand province, except the capital of Lashkar Gah. The head of Helmand Province’s Council told reporters Tuesday the city was completely surrounded.
The Taliban is doing so well, President Barack Obama was forced to extend a U.S. troop presence of 8,400 until the end of his second term. Obama also loosened the rules of engagement for U.S. troops, allowing the U.S. to assist Afghan forces from the air in offensive operations.
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