Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search

Briefing: Who are the Taliban?

The umbrella organization includes many different groups fighting the Afghan government and Western forces.

By Anand GopalCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / April 16, 2009

Kabul, Afghanistan

As the Obama administration ramps up focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan, insurgents from both countries have teamed up to confront the rising US troop presence. While the insurgents often get labeled as the "Taliban," in reality there are several groups fighting the Afghan government and Western forces, and they often act independently of one another and have distinct command structures, ideologies, and strategies. Here, the Monitor maps out the diversity of the insurgency.

Skip to next paragraph

Who are the Afghan insurgents?

The most established group is the Taliban, led by Mullah Omar and others who held top positions in the Afghan government in the 1990s. The Taliban is strongest in Kandahar and Helmand provinces in the south, where it has deep roots. US officials believe that senior leaders are based in Pakistan, possibly Quetta.

• Hekmatyar's Hizb-e-Islami

A prominent ally under the Taliban umbrella is Hizb-e-Islami, a group formed by warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in the 1970s to fight the Soviet-backed government and later the Soviet invasion. Throughout the 1980s, Hizb-e-Islami was an ally of Pakistan and the United States.

After the US invasion in 2001, a faction of Hizb-e-Islami led by Hekmatyar joined the insurgency. It is strongest in the northern regions of the country, says Antonio Giustozzi, an Afghanistan expert at the London School of Economics. With its long history, Hizb-e-Islami may have extensive contacts in the government and police.

While many Taliban fighters are poor and uneducated, Hizb-e-Islami members have usually gone to school, even college. Perhaps as a result, they tend to have a more lenient interpretation of Islam than other insurgent groups do – for example, they often allow music and parties.

• The Haqqani network

Western officials say the Haqqani network may be the most dangerous insurgent group. It is centered around Jalaluddin Haqqani, another former US ally, whose son Sirajuddin has in recent years assumed leadership. The group usually operates independently of – though sometimes in concert with – the Taliban and Hizb-e-Islami. It is behind many of the boldest attacks in recent memory, including a raid on government ministries in February and an assassination attempt on President Hamid Karzai last year.