Coronavirus has crippled the Afghan Taliban, sending the organization into flux as members of its senior leadership have sought treatment for the condition, according to Foreign Policy.
The illnesses have paved a way for Mullah Mohammad Omar, son of the group's founder, to grab the reins as interim leader, Taliban sources have reported.
The absence of senior Taliban leaders removes key decision-makers from the group during a period when U.S. troops are planning to draw down troops from Afghanistan to honor a bilateral agreement.
Haibatullah Akhundzada, the Taliban's supreme leader, hasn't attended meetings for several weeks. Sirajuddin Haqqani, his chief deputy of the Haqqani network, which is affiliated with al-Qaida, has substituted in his absence.
But Haqqani has been stricken by coronavirus, which has caused him to miss out on leadership duties.
"When Sirajuddin got sick he probably infected everyone else as he was deputizing at meetings for Haibatullah," Antonio Giustozzi, an expert on the Taliban at the Royal United Services Institute in London, told Foreign Policy.
An anonymous Kabul intelligence official confirmed some Taliban leaders had contracted coronavirus, including the supreme leader Akhundzada. Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob has now taken the role of "chief of operations."
"Our hero, the son of our great leader, Mullah Yaqoob, is running the entire Taliban operation in Haibatullah’s absence," Maulama Muhammad Ali Jan Ahmad, a senior Taliban commander, told Foreign Policy.
Discord within the top ranks of the Taliban could lead to a violent clash between its rival factions. That infighting could ultimately break off talks between the Taliban and the Kabul government to end their nearly 20-year conflict.
"There are two possible outcomes — Mullah Yaqoob will own his position at the top and Ishakzai will accept him as leader, or Ishakzai will gather his forces and attempt to maintain control in his own hands, and if that happens then things will be very bloody," an unnamed Quetta source said.
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