In recent months, the government has quietly provided the breakaway faction — popularly known as the Renouncers — with weapons, safe passage and intelligence support in their fight against the mainstream Taliban. The result has been a series of successes in areas where the government has otherwise suffered repeated defeats, particularly in Helmand, a southern province where the mainstream Taliban still control 90 percent of the territory.
The Renouncers are followers of Mullah Mohammad Rasoul, who split with the main Taliban group after revelations in 2015 that the former Taliban leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, had long been dead. Mullah Rasoul and his followers were angered that Mullah Omar’s replacement, Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, had kept the death a secret.
After Mullah Mansour was killed in an American airstrike last year, his successor, Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada, antagonized the Rasoul faction even more, especially by choosing a hard-line member of the Taliban’s Haqqani wing, Sirajuddin Haqqani, as deputy leader in charge of military operations.
While they have been most active in Helmand Province, other Renouncer factions have engaged in bitter fights with the mainstream Taliban in Shindand District of Herat Province, in the northwest, and in the western provinces of Farah and Ghor.
The fighting last week began when the mainstream Taliban attacked a Renouncer base in Gereshk, one of the few areas outside Helmand’s provincial capital, Lashkar Gah, that are not under Taliban control. The base, near an Afghan Army base, was struck by a…