The Taliban: An Organizational Analysis

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 5 months ago

Major Niel Smith of the Army and Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Center linked a magnificent study in a Small Wars Journal discussion thread, entitled The Taliban: An Organizational Analysis.  There are many very important observations in this study, and The Captain’s Journal will be drawing lessons from this document in the coming weeks.  However, even great studies can be wrong at points.

On page 65 there is an organizational diagram of the Taliban, showing Mullah Muhammad Omar as being at the head of the “organization,” with Baitullah Mehsud as being somewhere down in the chain of command.  This view of things is dated and doesn’t comport with the more recent evolution of the Taliban.

Baitullah Mehsud is indeed at the head of a conglomeration of Taliban tribes known as Tehrik-i-Taliban.  But Mehsud has a Pakistan-centric focus which angered Mullah Omar and others within the loose Taliban organization.  Baitullah Mehsud is the most powerful man in Waziristan.  Essentially, he is the government.  He should be seen more as an organizational equivalent to Omar, even if ideologically the same.

The earlier reports of Mullah Omar “sacking” Baitullah Mehsud amounted to Omar testing his power, or at least, incorrectly presuming upon his power.  He found out that in fact he didn’t have the authority to pull off such a move, and rather than have an ugly and embarrassing split in the Taliban, an agreement was reached to save face and keep the groups closely aligned and cooperative.

The spokesman denied media reports that the Taliban had expelled Baitullah Mehsud, the head of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan.

“Baitullah is a Pakistani and we as the Afghan Taliban have nothing to do with his appointment or his expulsion. We did not appoint him and we have not expelled him,” he said.

A spokesman for Baitullah Mehsud has already denied the expulsion report in a Hong Kong magazine and said that the militant leader continued to be the amir of Tehrik-Taliban Pakistan.

“He has not been expelled and he continues to be the amir of Pakistani Taliban,” Baitullah’s spokesman Maulavi Omar said.

The Asia Times Online in a report last week claimed that the Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar had removed Baitullah from the leadership of the Taliban movement for fighting in Pakistan at the expense of ‘Jihad’ in Afghanistan.

“We have no concern with anybody joining or leaving the Taliban movement in Pakistan. Ours is an Afghan movement and we as a matter of policy do not support militant activity in Pakistan,” the Taliban spokesman said.

“Had he been an Afghan we would have expelled him the same way we expelled Mansoor Dadullah for disobeying the orders of Mullah Omar. But Baitullah is a Pakistani Talib and whatever he does is his decision. We have nothing to do with it,” Mr Mujahid maintained.

“We have nothing to do with anybody’s appointment or expulsion in the Pakistani Taliban movement,” he insisted.

Baitullah, who has been accused of plotting the assassination of Ms Benazir Bhutto, told Al Jazeera in an interview that he had taken baya’h (oath of allegiance) to Mullah Muhammad Omar and obeyed his orders.

But the Taliban spokesman said the oath of allegiance did not mean that Pakistani militants were under direct operational control of Mullah Omar.

“There are mujahideen in Iraq who have taken baya’h to Mullah Omar and there are mujahideen in Saudi Arabia who have taken baya’h to him. So taking baya’h does not mean that Mullah Omar has direct operational control over them,” the spokesman said.

There are two lessons.  First, the Taliban cannot be neatly grouped in boxes on an organizational chart.  The structure is too fluid and amorphous to be amenable to Western ideas of charts.  Second, even the best analyses can be dated, even if still useful.


You are currently reading "The Taliban: An Organizational Analysis", entry #1059 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Taliban and was published April 24th, 2008 by Herschel Smith.

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