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Afghan insurgent attacks down: A sign of widening Taliban fractures?

An independent monitoring group says insurgent attacks in Afghanistan are down 43 percent compared with this time last year. 

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Earlier this month, 25 prominent members of the Taliban were reportedly executed by the organization for talking to the US without authorization.

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Additionally, a Taliban splinter group known as the Mullah Dadullah Front carried out the assassination of Maulvi Arsala Rahmani, a senior member of the Afghan High Peace Council, last Sunday allegedly outside the knowledge and control of the central Taliban organization.

“Maybe it’s because of the negotiation process that the Taliban is divided in parts,” says Naqeebullah, a former Afghan Army general who now serves as a member of parliament for Laghman Province. Like many Afghans he only uses one name. “This decrease in attacks might be because of the internal problems inside the Taliban. Whenever they have problems or disagreements inside, normally the attacks would get suspended for a short time or decrease.”

The distance between the Taliban foot soldiers fighting in Afghanistan and their leadership, believed to be mostly in Pakistan, has grown in recent years. Those fighting in Afghanistan sustain the vast majority of losses and have reportedly become embittered with the leadership hiding in Pakistan who is not exposed to the same level of danger.

The group's mid-level leadership has been particularly hard hit by Afghan and international operations. Last year, international forces conducted 2,200 night operations, which traditionally target the Taliban and insurgent group commanders. In 83 percent of those raids, soldiers managed to kill or capture their primary target or an associated insurgent.

'Not a monolithic movement'

“The Taliban itself is not a monolithic movement and there are so many local and regional powers. Some of them for their own reasons may have entered in tactical level talks, maybe to free some people or get a good deal for their own local forces,” says Jim Phillips, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation. “They see a lot more risk in continuing the war; it’s a personal risk for them. They’re a lot more malleable and willing to engage, if only for local ceasefires.”

This willingness to broker deals at the local level could create room to reduce fighting. However, there are other Taliban fighters inside Afghanistan who have vowed to continue fighting even if their leadership brokers a peace deal with foreign fighters.

"We’ve wanted an Islamic government in Afghanistan and we will not stop fighting for this," says Salih Mohammad Akhund, a Taliban fighter in Helmand. "If the Taliban leadership puts any conditions on the negotiations with others, they should come first to us and ask us what we want and ask us if we accept the Afghan constitution or if we don’t accept some of its articles. Those who fight want Islamic law, and right now in Afghanistan there is not Islamic law."

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