Smoke & mirrors in Afghanistan

What is the Mullah Dadullah Front, and who’s behind it?

 

Royal Marines on patrol in Helmand © AfghanistanMatters

 

The assassination earlier this month of Maulvi Arsala Rahmani, a former Taliban Minister turned-negotiator for Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, has sparked much debate over an insurgent group identified as the Mullah Dadullah Front.

Whilst numerous sources (The New York Times, The Huffington Post, etc.) have promoted the idea that this group is new on the scene, The Long War Journal (LWJ) has asserted that the group has been active since at least December 2010 when ISAF reported the capture of one of the group’s key financiers. Bill Roggio also reported that the group was responsible in early 2011 for the kidnap and beating of Sayed Badar Agha, a religious leader from Sangin District in Helmand, who had also been involved in peace negotiations.

Within Afghanistan numerous rumours surrounding the faction persist, from those linking the group to the Afghan intelligence services, to Taliban assurances that the group (perhaps even one man), has no connections to the wider insurgency.

In addition to a string of attacks and assassinations, the New York Times claims the group has also threatened Members of Parliament over the last month in connection with a forthcoming vote on the Strategic Partnership signed by Presidents Obama and Karzai on 1 May. The same article states that one Senator from Zabul Province received a text message demanding that he vote against the agreement, warning,

we are a suicide front and we wage jihad.

The Front is named after Taliban Commander, Mullah Dadullah Lang, who was killed by British Special Forces in May 2007 in Helmand Province. He was particularly known for his links to al-Qaeda and his adherence to the group’s ideology of global jihad. His use of tactics allegedly inspired by the late-al-Qaeda in Iraq Commander Musab al-Zarqawi, such as suicide bombing on the battlefield is notable as at the time this tactic was still thought to be highly debated within the Taliban’s senior ranks.

The Front is now believed to be based mainly in the Southern provinces of Kandahar, Helmand and Uruzgan and despite denials, retains links to the Taliban leadership. According to the LWJ, the group is led by Mullah Adbul Qayoum Zakir, a man who has served time in Guantanamo and is one of the most radical Taliban commanders with strong ties to al-Qaeda. Some sources even suggest that Zakir may be in charge of military operations for the Taliban.

Regardless of their origin, the recent assassination and continued threats posed to parliamentarians highlights the fact that certain insurgent factions cannot be reconciled and will continue to undermine the peace process. This is already apparent from the increasing number of attacks throughout the country believed to be perpetrated by another Taliban faction, the Haqqani Network.

Senior analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, Jeffrey Dressler notes that the attack on Rahmani most likely required assistance from other groups with capabilities within Kabul, emphasising further the unlikeliness of Taliban claims to having no connections with the Front. It does seem likely that the Taliban will continue to officially deny links to more extreme factions in order to continue to engage Washington (should negotiations resume) whilst maintaining implicit ties with such groups with the objective of retaining leverage in any such talks until withdrawal is complete.

 

Jennifer Lang has an MPhil in International Relations at Cambridge University, and has recently spent time in Israel and the West Bank. She writes on subjects including Afghanistan, Iran and US/EU foreign policy. You can find her on Twitter@Jenn_Lang