Afghanistan is under Taliban control. Here’s who leads the organization.
The Islamist militant organization rapidly gained territory as the United States and its allies withdrew their forces from the country, seizing Kabul and entering the presidential palace on Aug. 15.
The group’s supreme leader, Haibatullah Akhundzada, was in Kandahar this week, a Taliban official confirmed, to help map out a new government with other senior Taliban figures.
The Taliban’s reign from 1996 to 2001 was brutal, punctuated by extreme religious mandates, public executions and severely restricted liberties for women and girls. But since returning to power the group has struck a more conciliatory tone, saying rivals will be pardoned and women would not be discriminated against.
Taliban leaders have been conducting meetings with former Afghan officials to form a potential power-sharing government, which could keep the group from becoming internationally isolated and boost Afghanistan’s economic prospects.
Few of the Taliban’s members who ruled in 2001 are alive or in power, leaving uncertainty over how the group intends to run the country today.
Here are some of the main leaders of the Taliban and what you need to know about them.
Haibatullah Akhundzada is the supreme leader of the Taliban. He came into power in 2016, after the group’s former leader, Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan.
A cleric who was once the Taliban’s top judge, Akhundzada fled in 2001 to Pakistan, where he taught at religious schools before he rejoined to serve under Mansour.
He does not have much military experience, and since becoming the de facto leader of the Taliban, he has worked to bolster the group’s finances, in part through the narcotics trade, while also attempting to unify the group’s factions and consolidate power. It has been years since Akhundzada has appeared in public.
Abdul Ghani Baradar
Abdul Ghani Baradar served as a negotiator for peace talks in Doha, Qatar, and is the organization’s top political leader. He is also one of the original founders of the Taliban. He was imprisoned in 2010 in Pakistan before being released in 2018 at the request of the U.S. government so he could serve as the group’s leader in peace talks.
On Tuesday, he arrived in Afghanistan for the first time in more than a decade. Baradar swept through Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban, amid fanfare and fireworks. The triumphant arrival set him up to become the country’s next leader and signaled that the group may soon form a government.
Baradar was intent on the withdrawal of U.S. troops, appearing to resist in March an attempt by the Biden administration to push back their departure date. The United States agreed to leave the country as a condition of a peace deal struck with the Taliban under President Donald Trump.
Baradar spoke with Trump in 2020, after the signing of the deal, becoming the first Taliban leader to directly communicate with a U.S. president.
It was also Baradar who addressed Afghanistan on Sunday after President Ashraf Ghani fled the country.
“We have reached a victory that wasn’t expected. … We should show humility in front of Allah,” Baradar said in a statement recorded in Doha. “Now it’s about how we serve and secure our people and ensure their future to the best of our ability.”
Mohammad Yaqoob is the oldest son of Taliban founder Mohammad Omar and heads the organization’s military. A relatively new face in the group who swiftly rose to prominence after the death of his father in 2013, Yaqoob is considered by some experts to be a moderate member of the extremist group.
As the Taliban was making swift territorial gains last week, he urged fighters not to harm members of the Afghan military and government, to refrain from looting empty homes and to make sure marketplaces and shops kept functioning, according to the Associated Press.
Less moderate-minded may be Sirajuddin Haqqani, the son of Jalaluddin Haqqani, who founded the Haqqani network, an offshoot of the Taliban designated a terrorist group by the United States.
The U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan made stamping out the network, known for its deadly bombings, a priority during its mission. But by 2017, the group had made a fearsome return, amassing 5,000 fighters in southeastern Afghanistan, all commanded by Sirajuddin Haqqani.
Haqqani both leads the network and serves as a deputy leader of the Taliban.
He is wanted for questioning by the FBI in connection with a 2008 attack on a hotel in Kabul that killed six people, including one American. The fighter made headlines last year when the New York Times published a column by him titled “What We, the Taliban, Want.” The newspaper was criticized for not properly informing readers of Haqqani’s history as the leader of a terrorist network.