Mawlavi Talib is a high-ranking member of the Taliban, serving as the group’s “shadow” deputy governor of Helmand province.Alan Cullison and Saeed Shah, “Taliban Commander Who Led Attack on Afghan City Was Released From Prison Last Year, Officials Say,” Wall Street Journal, August 3, 2021, https://www.wsj.com/articles/taliban-commander-who-led-attack-on-afghan-city-was-released-from-prison-last-year-officials-say-11628010527. Talib is the commander leading the August 2021 assault on Lashkargah, one of several Afghan cities falling to the control of the Taliban in the midst of the full withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from the country.“Taliban commander leading Lashkar Gah onslaught was part of US-brokered prisoner release,” Arab News, August 5, 2021, https://www.arabnews.com/node/1905721/amp.
Talib allegedly served for years under the Taliban commanding militants in Helmand before being promoted to “shadow” deputy governor in the province. The province is particularly known for poppy cultivation and the narcotics trade, which has funded the Taliban for decades. Given the financial importance of the province, the area is prone to heavy fighting between the Taliban and U.S. and British forces.Alan Cullison and Saeed Shah, “Taliban Commander Who Led Attack on Afghan City Was Released From Prison Last Year, Officials Say,” Wall Street Journal, August 3, 2021, https://www.wsj.com/articles/taliban-commander-who-led-attack-on-afghan-city-was-released-from-prison-last-year-officials-say-11628010527. According to media sources, Talib is an aggressive Taliban fighter who has launched assaults against the British troops in Helmand for years.Hugh Tomlinson, Humayoon Babur and Haroon Janjua, “Taliban commander laying siege to Lashkar Gah was freed from jail in US deal,” The Times, August 4, 2021, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/leave-lashkar-gah-before-we-attack-taliban-afghan-civilians-warned-86l7dht7j.
At some point in 2020, Talib was arrested in Sangin after being spotted by Afghan security forces as he tried to slip through a security checkpoint. Talib was then detained in Bagram prison, outside of Kabul.Ben Farmer, “Taliban commander on brink of capturing Afghan city was freed in US-led prisoner swap,” Telegraph, August 4, 2021, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/world-news/2021/08/04/taliban-commander-brink-capturing-afghan-city-freed-last-year/; Mujib Mashal and Fatima Faizi, “Afghan Peace Talks Set to Begin as Prisoner Swap Is Nearly Done,” New York Times, October 5, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/03/world/asia/afghanistan-taliban-prisoners.html. On September 3, 2020, Talib was one of 5,000 prisoners released by the Afghan government.Mujib Mashal and Fatima Faizi, “Afghan Peace Talks Set to Begin as Prisoner Swap Is Nearly Done,” New York Times, October 5, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/03/world/asia/afghanistan-taliban-prisoners.html. In a February 2020 agreement between the Taliban and the United States, the U.S. agreed to secure the release of 5,000 prisoners held by the Afghan government in exchange for the initiation of direct peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban.Mujib Mashal, “Taliban and U.S. Strike Deal to Withdraw American Troops From Afghanistan,” New York Times, February 29, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/29/world/asia/us-taliban-deal.html. However, upon his release, despite signing a promise to not engage in fighting with the government, Talib returned to the battlefield to join the Taliban in a countrywide offensive that has taken over half of the country’s remote districts.Alan Cullison and Saeed Shah, “Taliban Commander Who Led Attack on Afghan City Was Released From Prison Last Year, Officials Say,” Wall Street Journal, August 3, 2021, https://www.wsj.com/articles/taliban-commander-who-led-attack-on-afghan-city-was-released-from-prison-last-year-officials-say-11628010527.
The Afghan government has not been able to adequately counter the insurgents and has been faced with ongoing fighting only made more difficult by the impeding withdrawal of all U.S. combat troops by September 11, 2021—the 20th anniversary of the fatal terrorist attacks on U.S. soil.Helene Cooper, Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Eric Schmitt, “Biden to Withdraw All Combat Troops From Afghanistan by Sept. 11,” New York Times, July 24, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/13/us/politics/biden-afghanistan-withdrawal.html.
On August 3, 2021, under Talib’s command, hundreds of Taliban fighters launched an attack on Lashkargah, the capital of Helmand province. Talib and the fighters, which he reportedly collected from Helmand and surrounding provinces, specifically targeted Lashkargah’s prison to release and potentially recruit inmates for the insurgency. Despite heavy U.S. airstrikes and a counterattack by U.S.-trained Afghan commands, Talib’s insurgent outfit managed to continue their offensive onto the provincial capital.Alan Cullison and Saeed Shah, “Taliban Commander Who Led Attack on Afghan City Was Released From Prison Last Year, Officials Say,” Wall Street Journal, August 3, 2021, https://www.wsj.com/articles/taliban-commander-who-led-attack-on-afghan-city-was-released-from-prison-last-year-officials-say-11628010527.