The Afghan Taliban --a militant political movement--composed mainly of ethnic Pashtuns, is by far the most active terrorist group in Afghanistan. The group was formed in Kandahar, the second-largest city in Afghanistan and the capital of Kandahar Province, during the early 1990s following the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan. It is widely believed that the Taliban has grown from religious seminaries, with financial support mostly from Saudi Arabia, which preached a hard line form of Sunni Islam.
Tired of the infighting between rival factions of the Mujahideen (holy warriors), who fought the occupying Soviet forces, and the influx of foreign fighters with their own agendas, Afghan adopted the Taliban who appeared to also be fighting crime and corruption, which has flourished in the country after decades of fighting. In September 1996, the Taliban seized the capital, Kabul, from President Burhanuddin Rabbani, an ethnic Tajik whom they viewed as anti-Pashtun and corrupt.
Under the Taliban regime, the harsh Islamic Sharia law was adopted. Music was banned, men were forced to grow facial hair and women had to wear burkas. The Taliban carried out public executions ranging from firing squads to beheading and stoning to death of those found guilty in violent crimes or adultery, while lesser crimes saw suspects punished by amputation of hands or legs or severe flogging.
Despite being distinct groups with different goals, ideologies and cultural backgrounds, the Taliban allowed al-Qaeda to stay and establish training camps in Afghanistan. Following the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, the latter launched operation Enduring Freedom, which lasted from October 2001 to December 2014.
Though pushed by the international forces from many locations under their control, the Taliban return to its guerilla tactics and inflicted heavy losses on both foreign and local government troops. With the gradual withdrawal of the foreign forces from the country and the end to the massive American presence in 2014, the Taliban aided by the Haqqani Network, al-Qaeda, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) among others has increased its presence and attacks throughout the country.
The group’s terrorist activities range from attacking military convoys, assaults on critical infrastructure, political assassinations, suicide bombings and also full-scale military invasions.
While several of the group highest commanders have died of illness or were killed in US drone attacks, the Taliban have proved its resiliency by replacing them without interruption to the insurgency. Most current estimates place active membership of the Taliban at more than 35,000 who are active in 70% of Afghanistan’s districts, fully controlling 4% of the country and physically present in another 66%.