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Who is the new Taliban military chief?

Massood SaifullahAugust 31, 2016

The Taliban have appointed a new military chief as they seek to expand their control in Afghanistan. Will Mullah Ibrahim Sadar be different from his predecessors? DW asks Kabul-based expert Wahid Muzhdah.

Atghanistan Herat Taliban beschießen Touristen
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/AP/A. Khan

The Taliban have appointed Mullah Ibrahim Sadar as the group's new military chief. Sadar's appointment comes at a time when the militant outfit is seeking to expand its control over key Afghan provinces. The group also faces a challenge from the self-proclaimed "Islamic State," which is active in some parts of the war-torn country.

Can Sadar achieve the military objectives set by his group? And can he overcome the challenges posed by IS? In an interview with DW, Wahid Muzhdah, a Kabul-based expert, explains why the Taliban chose Sadar as their military commander.

DW: Tell us about Mullah Sadar's background.

Wahid Muzhdah: Sadar is from Afghanistan's southern Helmand province and is an ethnic Pashtun like most Taliban leaders. He has been active in the Taliban movement for many years with a considerable military experience.

I was surprised when the media reported about his appointment as the new Taliban military chief, because according to my sources he has been the group's military head for almost two years. He was actually appointed when Mullah Akhtar Mansoor took over the Taliban leadership. Sadar has been involved in most Taliban operations, especially the most recent ones.

Wahid Muzhda Afghanistan-Experte aus Kabul
Wahid Muzhdah is a Kabul-based expert on the groupImage: DW/Farahmand

Sadar has been one of the top Taliban commanders since the group was ousted from power in 2001. He was not only close to Taliban founder Mullah Omar, but was also an aide to Omar's successor Mullah Mansoor. After Mansoor was killed in a drone attack in Pakistan, Sadar pledged loyalty to the new leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada.

What combat experience does Sadar have, and why does the group think he is a good choice to lead the insurgency in Afghanistan?

Only a group member who enjoys the respect and loyalty of most Taliban fighters on ground can be appointed to this position. It means that Sadar has that respect. For many years, he has been leading the jihadists in their operations in Kandahar and Helmand provinces against the Afghan troops and their international allies.

The high ranking Taliban members also trust him and consider him an experienced fighter and commander.

Will Sadar change the group's strategy and tactics?

Sadar has been a key member of the Taliban military council for two years. He was involved in many recent military decisions. Therefore, I don't think a lot will change now.

It is important to understand that individual commanders do not determine how the Taliban operate as a group. Military decisions are taken by the military council; commanders implement those decisions. Individuals are replaceable within the group. After Mansoor was killed, the Taliban continued to be a force. In fact, they expanded their control to more territory across Afghanistan.

What does Mullah Sadar's appointment mean for the Afghan peace process?

I think the Taliban will continue to reject any calls for peace from the Afghan government and continue to battle the Afghan troops.

At this time, the group is focused on expanding the Afghan war to northern Afghanistan rather than negotiating with Kabul.

I believe that with or without Sadar, the Taliban will continue to carry out attacks on Afghan cities to put more pressure on security forces.

Can the new Taliban military chief keep IS at bay?

IS is in a difficult situation in Afghanistan. It is engaged in a battle with Afghan troops, NATO forces and the Taliban fighters at the same time. So far IS has not been able to replicate its Syria and Iraq success in Afghanistan. IS is also facing financial difficulties in Afghanistan.

The Taliban leadership knows IS' weaknesses. Sadar will continue to strike the group in the future.

The interview was conducted by Masood Saifullah.