The Taliban has made rapid advances across Afghanistan in recent months after the US and other foreign forces withdrew leaving the Afghan government to fight alone. The group, which controlled most of Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, when it was ousted for harbouring al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden after September 11, wants to defeat the US-backed government and reimpose strict Islamic law.
The Taliban are an hardline Islamist movement in Afghanistan that has been fighting an insurgency against the Western-backed government in Kabul since being ousted from power in 2001. It originally drew members from so-called ?mujahideen? fighters who, with support from the United States, repelled Soviet forces in the 1980s.
READ: Who Are The Taliban? From ?Student? Mujahideens to Terrorists Holding Afghanistan to Ransom
The group emerged in 1994 as one of the factions fighting a civil war and went on to control most of the country by 1996, when it imposed strict Islamic law. Opponents and Western countries accused it of brutally enforcing its version of sharia and suppressing religious minorities.
Its founder and original leader was Mullah Mohammad Omar, who went into hiding after the Taliban was toppled by U.S.-backed local forces following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
So secretive were his whereabouts that his death, in 2013, was only confirmed two years later by his son.
The Taliban are once again in the ascendancy militarily in Afghanistan. Since foreign troops began to withdraw they have seized most of the country?s territory and now control the capitals of eight of 34 provinces.
Following are some of the key figures in the movement.
Known as the ?Leader of the Faithful?, the Islamic legal scholar is the Taliban?s supreme leader who holds final authority over the group?s political, religious, and military affairs.
Akhundzada took over when his predecessor, Akhtar Mansour, was killed in a U.S. drone strike near the Afghan-Pakistan border in 2016. For 15 years, until his sudden disappearance in May, 2016, Akhundzada taught and preached at a mosque in Kuchlak, a town in southwestern Pakistan, associates and students have told Reuters.
He is believed to be aged around 60 years old, and his whereabouts are unknown.
Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob
The son of Taliban founder Mullah Omar, Yaqoob oversees the group?s military operations, and local media reports have said he is inside Afghanistan.
He was proposed as overall leader of the movement during various succession tussles, but he put forward Akhundzada in 2016 because he felt he lacked battlefield experience and was too young, according to a Taliban commander at the meeting where Mansour?s successor was chosen.
Yaqoob is believe to be in his early 30s.
The son of prominent mujahideen commander Jalaluddin Haqqani, Sirajuddin leads the Haqqani network, a loosely organized group that oversees the Taliban?s financial and military assets across the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
The Haqqanis are believed by some experts to have introduced suicide bombing to Afghanistan and have been blamed for several high-profile attacks in Afghanistan including a raid on Kabul?s top hotel, an assassination attempt on then-President Hamid Karzai and a suicide attack on the Indian embassy.
Haqqani is believed to be in his late 40s or early 50s. His whereabouts are unknown.
Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar
One of the co-founders of the Taliban, Baradar now heads the political office of the Taliban and is part of the negotiating team that the group has in Doha to try and thrash out a political deal that could pave the way for a ceasefire and more lasting peace in Afghanistan. The process has failed to make significant headway in recent months.
Baradar, reported to have been one of Mullah Omar?s most trusted commanders, was captured in 2010 by security forces in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi and released in 2018.
Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai
A former deputy minister in the Taliban?s government before its ouster, Stanekzai has lived in Doha for nearly a decade, and became the head of the group?s political office there in 2015.
He has taken part in negotiations with the Afghan government, and has represented the Taliban on diplomatic trips to several countries.
Abdul Hakim Haqqani
He is head of the Taliban?s negotiating team. The Taliban?s former shadow chief justice heads its powerful council of religious scholars and is widely believed to be someone whom Akhundzada trusts most.
(With Reuters input)
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