Exclusive Interview with Taliban Chief of Army Staff on Status and Mission of Taliban Army


On 12th of January 2023, the Swiss Institute for Global Affairs (SIGA) sat down with Qari Fasihuddin Fetrat, the Chief of Army Staff of the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, to talk with him about the status of the Taliban Army. This marked the first extensive interview given by the Chief of Army Staff of the Islamist group in which he provided exclusive insights into the Taliban Army.

Taliban Chief of Army Staff Qari Fasihuddin Fetrat at an official military ceremony in Mazar-i Sharif, Afghanistan, March 2022 (source: Taliban Ministry of Defence https://www.youtube.com/watch?app=desktop&v=u8KRJL3-zu8)

In the interview, Fasihuddin stated, amongst others, (1) that the currently 150’000 men strong Taliban Army is set to further expand; (2) that the inclusion of soldiers of the disintegrated army of the Afghan Republic into the new Taliban Army did not pose any problems; (3) that these soldiers as well as all other recruits of the Taliban army receive lessons in «jihadi ideology»; (4) that he deems the anti-Taliban resistance and the self-declare Islamic State in Afghanistan minuscule groups with no territory; (5) that these groups are, thus, not seen as a threat by the Taliban Army; and (6) that the Taliban Army’s main focus is to defend Afghanistan in case anyone should try to attack it from the outside.

The interview was conducted in Persian in the Afghan capital Kabul. The below transcript is a translation by the author and was slightly edited for clarity and brevity. 

SIGA: What is the current status of the Army of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan?

Taliban Chief of Army Staff: The status of our army is, praise to Allah, good. All the mujaheddin [holy warriors, here meaning Taliban] who had fought the United States of America [in Afghanistan] have become soldiers of the army. And day by day the number of our soldiers is rising.

How large is your army currently?

Currently, our army is 150’000 men strong.

In January 2022 you publicly stated that the end goal is to have a 150’000 men strong army does that mean that the rebuilding of the army after the toppling of the former Afghan Republic in August 2021 by the Taliban has been completed or will the numerical strength of the Taliban Army further increase as you suggested just before?

We have plans to further expand the army, maybe to 200’000 men. It all will be done according to needs. The rebuilding of the army is not yet complete. [Note: a 200’000 men strong army would be around the size of the Afghan Republican Army in early 2021 that was fighting the Taliban insurgency across the whole country.]

When do you expect the rebuilding of the army to be completed?

In six to twelve months.

The Taliban Army has now seven regional corps and one division responsible for Kabul, exactly as the toppled Republican Army. Will this remain or are additional units planned?

This will remain and no new corps are planned.

The Republican Army had a separate corps for special forces. Is this also the case in the Taliban Army?

There is a separate unit for special forces, but the rebuilding of this unit is still under way. It has not yet reached the size of a corps. Currently, it is the size of a brigade.

During the overthrow of the Afghan Republic in August 2021, the Republican Army completely disintegrated. You had to start from scratch with rebuilding a new army. What where the challenges in doing so?

If one has to start from zero, it is of course not easy. However, we managed to swiftly rebuild the army. In the beginning one of the challenges was that mujaheddin who came from remote areas were not familiar with things [necessary to rebuild an army].

Do you currently have any issues with supplies of equipment such as weapons, ammunitions, or vehicles?

No. Praise be to Allah, we have no shortage of anything.

Have soldiers from the disintegrated Republican Army joined the new Taliban Army? If so, how many?

Yes, soldiers from the former army have joined our new army. They make up about 25% to 30% of our army. Another about 20% of our soldiers have newly joined the army. They were neither in the old security forces nor with the mujaheddin before. The remaining 50% to 55% are veteran Taliban who had fought the invaders.

Are there any problems with soldiers from the former Republican Army? They were, after all, sometimes for years, fighting for a government that you overthrew.

No, there are no problems with the soldiers from the former army. They have decided to serve their country and there is no issue with them. When the occupation ended, all problems between Afghans also ended and we are now serving together like brothers.

In a speech in March 2022 you said that one of the foremost requirements for a soldier of the Islamic Emirate is a «jihadi mindset». Do soldiers of the former Republican Army not lack such a «jihadi mindset»?

Efforts to strengthen the jihadi ideology of our soldiers are continuing. We train all soldiers, including soldiers of the former army, in jihadi ideology. This training is constantly and simultaneously happening in all trainings that we give to our soldiers.

What is the status of the Taliban Air Force?

We have repaired the majority of the aircraft of the former air force that the Americans have damaged before they left [Afghanistan at the end of August 2021]. Our air force is now about 50% rebuilt and active. Efforts to further rebuild the air force are continuing.

The officially announced repairing of aircraft almost exclusively concerned old Soviet-made aircraft, namely Mi-17 and Mi-35 helicopters and some Antonov 32 cargo planes. The Antonovs had not been flying for 10 to 15 years. Meanwhile newer aircrafts like the Super Tucano (Embraer EMB 314 / A-29) light attack planes of which you have at least two have so far not been flying. What’s the reason for this?

Afghans are familiar with the Soviet-made aircraft and can repair them. The Super Tucanos are working, but it is true that they have so far not been flying.

Is the old age of some of the repaired Soviet-made aircraft not a problem?

No, they are working fine.

The Taliban fighters had the goal to end what you saw as a U.S. occupation of Afghanistan and to establish an Islamic system in Afghanistan. You have reached these goals. What is the mission of the Taliban Army now?

Our mission is to defend Afghanistan and the Islamic system that we have finally established. We also make sure that no one will ever again invade Afghanistan. The old Republican Army was established to fight against its own people. The Army of the Islamic Emirate is different. Our army does not fight with its own people inside Afghanistan.

Who is your main enemy now? The [anti-Taliban] Resistance? The self-declared Islamic State known as Daesh? Or an outside enemy?

The Resistance and Daesh have no territory at all in Afghanistan. We don’t see them as rivals; they are no serious threat.

The Resistance holds some territory in the mountains of Panjshir Province and Andarab [a region of Baghlan Province] though. And Taliban forces do have skirmishes with them. In August 2022, the Taliban emir even appointed Abdul Qayoum Zakir to a special position as the man in charge for military operations in Andarab and Panjshir. Is Zakir serving in this function as part of the Taliban Ministry of Defence or is his role independent of the Ministry?

Abdul Qayoum Zakir is serving in this role as part of the Taliban Army and the Ministry of Defence. In the hierarchy of the army, he is in a position down the chain of command from me. He is the man in charge of the Andarab and Panjshir operation, but we are closely working together on this and I am involved in decisions on a daily basis. Yes, the Resistance has some armed men in the mountains, but they are very few, maybe only 100 to 150. [Note: the National Resistance Front claims to have several thousand armed men.]

Security forces of the Taliban Emirate are regularly conducting operations against Daesh in Afghanistan. To what extent is the Taliban Army involved in such operations?

The operations against Daesh are mainly the responsibility of the General Directorate of Intelligence [the Taliban’s secret police] and the Ministry of Interior [responsible for police forces]. In case of need, the Ministry of Defence is supporting these authorities in operations against Daesh, but this is only rarely happening.

Already before the Taliban’s return to power, the Taliban were fighting Daesh, namely driving them from the only territories Daesh controlled in the eastern Afghan provinces of Nangarhar and Kunar in late 2019 and early 2020. Back then, the Taliban deployed special forces, so-called Red Units, to fight Daesh. Have these Red Units now become part of the Ministry of Defence and if so, are they not anymore involved in fighting Daesh?

Some of the Red Units were absorbed into the new army and some of them became police forces. The ones that joined the new army have no major role anymore in fighting Daesh.

Since the Taliban returned to power in August 2021, there have been various smaller cross-border firefights with security forces from neighbouring countries, namely Pakistan, Iran, and Turkmenistan. Were the Taliban fighters involved in these incidents from the army or the police?

They were from the army. The defence of our borders is one of our missions.

What is being done to prevent further such incidents?

We have set up a committee that is in direct contact with [counterparts in the armed forces of] neighbouring countries. The work on this started and the problems have been more or less resolved. We are undertaking efforts that this will be controlled and that such incidents will not happen again. The incidents were partly caused by issues to which the former [Afghan] government did not pay attention. So there are sometimes misunderstandings that led to incidents. But the committee was established and talks are underway.

So if there should be other cross-border incidents, you can directly and immediately contact your counterparts in neighbouring countries?

Yes. The committee can do that. It is not me personally, but other people in the Ministry of Defence.

What was the reason for these cross-border firefights? Was it a fault by the Pakistanis and Iranians or a fault of the Emirate?

It is natural that, if two people face each other, sometimes one is at fault and sometimes the other.

At the end of December 2022 the Pakistani Interior Minister said in a tv interview that the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is threatening Pakistan from Afghanistan. He also said that if the Afghan Taliban do not curb TTP activities in Afghanistan, Pakistan will strike TTP targets inside Afghanistan. What is your reaction to this?

We promise and reassure that no other country will be attacked from the soil of Afghanistan. We also don’t allow anyone to conduct activities from Afghanistan that are to the detriment of any other country, whether it would be the TTP or any other movement. We don’t permit anybody to do this. Just like we don’t allow anybody to launch attacks from Afghanistan, we don’t allow anyone outside of Afghanistan to attack our soil. We will never accept such threats.

In April 2022 Pakistani fighter jets struck several houses inside Afghanistan. If the Pakistani airforce would again conduct such airstrikes, how could you defend yourself?

We have equipment to defend ourselves. We are able to defend ourselves.

But the Taliban Army has no significant anti-aircraft capabilities. You have very few Ziko Yak [Afghan term for ZPU, a Russian anti-aircraft gun based on the KPV heavy machine gun]; there are probably some Stingers [Man-Portable Air-Defence Systems] [from the anti-Soviet jihad in the 1980s] around, but they are so old that they are unlikely to still function. The former Republican army was never provided with significant anti-aircraft weapons because there was no need for it as the Taliban had no aircraft.

We have [anti-aircraft weapons], inshallah. We have everything. We can hit aircraft. Of course we can hit aircraft. We have to be able to. There is a famous proverb in Farsi [one of Afghanistan’s official languages]: «جوینده یابنده است» [«juyenda yobanda ast»; «the one who seeks finds»]. The Islamic Emirate had made efforts [to defeat the Americans], and we defeated them. So we will also now find what we need and succeed.

Thank you for the interview.

Franz J. Marty

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Kommentare: 2
  • #1

    Bahauddin Ansri (Sonntag, 26 Februar 2023 06:56)

    I am working in (Ariana news) channel in Kabul Afghanistan and I need the full interview video for covering the News.
    If you let me to access the Interview it well be your kind.
    Thank you for your cooperation

  • #2

    Bahauddin Ansri (Sonntag, 26 Februar 2023 06:57)