Posted by: Christian | September 29, 2008

Talibs, Hizbis; Goats, Sheep

Well, the insurgency is interesting, I give it that. So “interesting” that the media needs to lump every insurgent into the “Taliban” category so as not to make things too complicated. Let’s take a ride with some reporters down south to hang out with the “Taliban.” I can’t embed the video but you can watch it here. It is distributed through Journeyman Pictures, which in regards to its Afghanistan content varies from gold to garbage. This report is somewhere in between.

This is their description, if you don’t feel like watching the 8-minute video:

For this exceptional report, the crew gained access to a Taliban compound near Kandahar. In exclusive interviews, Taliban fighters reveal their growing confidence and rising popularity among Afghans.

I would like to make a few comments on the content.

  1. The Pakistani trainer sure wasn’t shy about his (comparatively) clean-shaven face being shown on TV.
  2. The locals say that the compound used to belong to Mullah Dadullah.
  3. According to the reporters, these “Talibs” are short on AQ/Jihadi rhetoric and long on anti-government, anti-foreigner and economic grievance rhetoric.
  4. They cite the good wages of insurgency, but of course say they are motivated by Islam.
  5. They say they won’t negotiate with the government.
  6. They are unhappy that the government hasn’t fixed the flood damage in their village.
  7. According to the reporter, they like whiskey, music and fighting “goats.”

Well, these “Taliban”-embedded reporters are just like most reporters embedded with coalition forces: they are prone to reporting much of the rhetoric as fact and just regurgitating the superficial things that they are told without the necessary skepticism or further investigation.

But there is something wrong with this report beyond the usual superficial stuff. Did you notice? Hint: It has to do with those “Talibs” and their “goats.”

That soldier is holding what is colloquially referred to as a “goat.” Those animals in the report butting each other in the head for the betting “Talibs” are more accurately termed “sheep.” OK, so what? I’ve written up all this just to point out that those goats were actually sheep? (I double checked with an Aussie bloke who farms sheep on the weekend).

Actually, I’ve pointed this out to make a parallel comparison to those “Taliban fighters.” They are not actually Taliban, unless your definition of Taliban is an insurgent who targets both the government and coalition forces. They are, as was sort of given away by the reporter, fighters affiliated with Hizb-i Islami Gulbuddin. That would be what remains of the Gulbuddin Hekmatyar faction of Hizb-i Islami. (Note that the locals said the compound used to belong to Mullah Dadullah).

Caricature of Hekmatyar via, your one-stop shop for warlord caricatures:

I’ve consistently belittled Hekmatyar, especially when the Taliban and AQ told him that he just wasn’t their type. But I’m also open-minded to the fact that Hizbi-i Islami Gulduddin (HIG) may be making a modest comeback (in comparison to its peak in the early 1990s). A google search will show that they have been “credited” with numerous attacks in the last year (albeit much, much less than what the Taliban gets credited for). Is Hekmatyar back? I don’t have the access to the sort of information that could confirm that so I couldn’t say for sure.

Some background info on HIG is necessary here. HIG was the favored (by the Pakistani ISI) mujahideen party during from the 1980s until the rise of the Taliban. It was a very centralized party, only Massoud’s group could compare in terms of organizational control (according to Abdulkader Sinno’s analysis). The other factions of the time were generally based on the distribution of patronage. It is possible that HIG is back, but mostly as a patronage distribution organization. Basically what happens is a local group (qawm, extended family, guys who used to fight together, whatever…) has some strong local motivations mixed in with the usual camouflage of defending Islam. They need some weapons and materiel. A sponsor (Hekmatyar) offers to be the sponsor or is solicited to be so. He has funds from the Gulf Arabs countries, Pakistan, his refugee camps, wherever… He is glad to send the goods across the border. Maybe he still knows some of his commanders from back in the day who can train these guys, maybe he knows a Pakistani officer who is willing to train these guys, maybe he can facilitate ties between commanders on the ground and with those Hizbis who have ostensibly left HIG and joined the government (there are lots). Anyways, lots of speculation in there. But I just can’t imagine that HIG is a group with the same level of organizational control it once had. Though maybe not in regards to all the HIG guys out east in Kunar, Nuristan etc.. who may be in much closer contact/vicinity to Hekmatyar.

Therefore, I don’t think the diffuse group known as HIG can be decapitated. I believe that these guys on the ground are operating mostly independently of their sponsor/leader. Not that Hekmatyar being dispatched would be any great tragedy.

And about this group near Kandahar that may previously have been affiliated with Dadullah? Now who would, so far from the traditional strongholds of HIG, have some old contacts with Hekmatyar to revive once they had lost their use for the Taliban or experienced some other sort of mutual disaffection or lost their main Taliban sponsor? [Super-speculation warning] Check out this map of the situation in 1992, by Gilles Dorronsoro (pg 247):

If that’s too small then take a look at this bigger file. So if you were wondering how a HIG group magically sprouted in the middle of Taliban country, that map may help to show that there were some far-flung Hizb affiliates. I’m not saying to bomb that little vertical line blob to the west of Kandahar, I’m just saying that it is not surprising that HIG is down there considering that they used to be there.

There is endless speculation to be had in there. But the point I want to make is that the insurgency is increasingly diverse, that’s what the report got right.

Further reading:


  1. Just heard Gulbuddin Hektmatyar was responsible of the death of 10 french paratroopers in an ambush in August, 18th…
    I’ve got a question for you: what is your opinion regarding Gilles DORONSORRO. I listened to it last year on A-Stan but I was not convinced by his assesment on COIN in this country (too negative).
    Finally, I’ve just finished, “Massoud l’Afghan”, by Christophe de PONFILLY… foreword by Olivier ROY.

  2. How “former” is “former”??

    Christian – good dissection of the Journeyman report! I, too, noted with interest the, ahem, “former” Pakistani soldier and, on the subject of alleged Pak/ISI involvement I came across a report in Defense News:

    “Pakistani military forces flew repeated helicopter missions into Afghanistan to resupply the Taliban during a fierce battle in June 2007, according to a U.S. Marine lieutenant colonel, who says his information is based on multiple U.S. and Afghan intelligence reports.”. Its at:

    I also saw a report where Hekmatyar seems to be claiming that his fighters killed the French soldiers:




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