From a distance, it may appear that the Taliban is a monolithic enemy. Far from it.
After a year of souring reports on the state of the war in Afghanistan, the “surge” of 30,000 additional U.S. troops is ongoing; and not a moment too soon say supporters. U.S. President Barack Obama had pledged to make a July 2011 decision about how many troops to bring home. Obama has since reneged on that promise and has extended the U.S. presence to a definitive 2014, at the least. Either way, the window of time in which to sufficiently weaken the Taliban is shortening. The problem is, the “Taliban” doesn’t really exist. Or, at least, not in the way the term “Taliban” is conventionally used.
The original movement was a Pakistan-supported militia, built around a core of well-armed Afghan religious students (“Taliban” means “student” in Pashto, one of the primary languages of Afghanistan). The seminal Taliban took power in Kabul, Afghanistan in the mid-1990’s. Today, however, the term has become nearly meaningless, used to describe virtually any militant organization in Afghanistan and many more in Pakistan- even though those groups diverge widely in their allegiances, targets and strategies.
Here is a “slideshow guide” to understanding our enemies- not merely the “Taliban”, but the “Talibans”.
CLICK EACH PICTURE BELOW TO VIEW FULL-SIZE SLIDES INDIVIDUALLY
Thanks to Peter Bergen (senior research fellow), Brian Fishman (associate research fellow), and Katherine Tiedemann (associate research fellow) of the New America Foundation for research demographics and pictures.