Taliban vs. Taliban clash in Afghanistan’s west leaves 40 dead
HERAT, Afghanistan — Infighting between factions killed 40 Taliban fighters in October in the western province of Herat and is part of the reason a militant group is seeking peace talks, government officials said Friday.
Over the last three years, armed clashes between rival Taliban groups in the region have left hundreds dead, said Jailani Farhad, spokesman for the provincial governor.
The faction pursuing peace talks is led by Mullah Mohammad Rasoul, who split from the main insurgent command with about 1,000 fighters in 2015. The split occurred after the revelation that senior Taliban commanders had covered up the death of the group’s leader, Mullah Omar, for almost two years.
Meanwhile, the faction fighting the Rasoul group has been accused by the U.S. of taking money from Iran, the Taliban’s traditional enemy.
The breakaway Rasoul group also has pledged to protect a massive government pipeline project in western Afghanistan. One of its commanders even encouraged people to vote in the country’s parliamentary elections last month, Farhad said. This stance puts the group in opposition to the main Taliban, which is opposed to the elections.
Government officials in Herat said their security forces are not targeting the Rasoul-led Taliban faction in night raids. A New York Times report said the group has operated with the tacit support of the Afghan government, and last year accepted cash and intelligence from Kabul for their fight against other Taliban factions.
“The provincial government’s stance is clear,” Farhad said. “We have an open door for reconciliation and peace with any group.”
The Rasoul group has fought in at least 60 clashes between the summer of 2015 and December 2017 with a Taliban faction known as the Quetta Shura, according to research by West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center.
The breakaway group expected other disaffected Taliban would join, but no new groups seem to be signing on, said Thomas Ruttig, co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network. The group suffered a further blow in 2016 when Pakistani authorities said they arrested Rasoul.
The group’s rivals, the mainline Taliban, are led by a commander recently placed on a U.S. government blacklist. The blacklist also includes two Iranian military officers accused by the U.S. to be supporting the Taliban in western border provinces such as Herat.
Tehran, which has historically opposed the Taliban, denies those claims.
Mohammad Aref Karimi and Ghulam Rasoul Murtazawie contributed to this report.