THE TALIBAN RELIED ON an extensive network of intelligence operatives and sleeper agents in major Afghan cities, in order to sweep to power with stunning ease last summer, according to a new report. These networks of spies had infiltrated state agencies and civil society organizations throughout Afghanistan over many years. They were quickly able to neutralize opponents of the Taliban from the inside when commanded to do so, according to the Wall Street Journal.
In a lengthy exposé published on Sunday, the newspaper said that Taliban spies had managed to successfully penetrate most government ministries, military and security bodies, as well as business entities over several years. Many Taliban operatives were also present within universities and even inside Western-funded aid organizations, especially those were headquartered in the Afghan capital Kabul, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The two authors of the report, Yaroslav Trofimov and Margherita Stancati, said they spoke about the Taliban’s spy network with Mawlawi Mohammad Salim Saad, a senior Taliban commander who belongs to the Haqqani Network. The Haqqani Network is a Sunni militant group that works closely with the Taliban, but has retained its operational independence over several decades. Saad told the Wall Street Journal that Taliban spies had posed as ordinary Afghan citizens, living in large urban centers without arousing suspicion from other Afghans or foreigners. Most of them had been specifically instructed by their Taliban handlers to adopt Western customs, such as wearing jeans and shaving their beards, said Saad.
But on August 15 of this year, large units of Taliban sleeper agents received simultaneous instructions to access hidden caches of weapons and neutralize government personnel in strategic locations around the country. The Wall Street Journal discusses the example of one such unit of Taliban spies, who quietly stormed a government compound in downtown Kabul and disarmed the stunned guards. Several of these units had specific instructions to stop government personnel from destroying classified and other sensitive documents as the state around them collapsed, according to the article.