KABUL -- With the Taliban's core leadership crumbling and evidence of massive losses on the battlefield, the militant group is losing its grip on Afghanistan, Afghan officials and security analysts said.
Taliban leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada's position of power is precarious as infighting and mass defections plague the Taliban, according to Gen. Mohammad Radmanesh, spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Defence.
"The Taliban's internal conflicts have drastically increased to the point that various Taliban factions in Nangarhar, Paktika, Helmand, Zabul and Paktia provinces are engaged in the fiercest internal fighting, as a result of which they have suffered heavy casualties," he told Salaam Times.
"Some of the wealthy members of the Taliban such as Mullah Dawood Muzammil, Mullah Sadr Ibrahim, Mullah Muhammad Zazi and a number of other senior members of the Taliban have left the Taliban leadership council as a result of disputes and conflicts," he said. "They are now trying to form a new leadership."
'Unprecedented' Taliban casualties
The Defence Ministry described Taliban casualties in early 2017 as "unprecedented", with hundreds of Taliban members, including many commanders, killed by Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF) in just one month.
At least 37 Taliban fighters, including eight leaders of the group, were killed in military operations in Kunar, Kapisa, Uruzgan, Herat, Kunduz, Baghlan and Helmand provinces, the ministry said January 18.
A few days later, the ANDSF, with support from the Afghan Air Force and artillery units of the Afghan Army, killed at least 14 Taliban fighters, including a local commander, the ministry said January 23.
Meanwhile, a local Taliban commander in Sar-e-Pul died along with four of his sons when a roadside bomb they were preparing to target Afghan troops detonated prematurely, Ariana News reported.
Leadership shakeup, assassinations
Amid increasing casualties among Taliban fighters, the group is also undergoing massive structural changes.
Recently, Haibatullah replaced "shadow" governors in 16 of the country's 34 provinces in an attempt retain his influence over the group, experts say.
In addition, there is evidence of a kill list comprising 50 Taliban members -- 34 high ranking members and the 16 "shadow" governors who were dismissed, according to Kabul's 8am Daily Newspaper.
"Reportedly it has been decided that within the next month these people should be assassinated by the Taliban," the newspaper reported in January, quoting sources inside the National Directorate of Security.
Qari Saifullah, head of Taliban military and logistical support in Zabul Province, was one of the first to be assassinated, on orders of Hafiz Majid, an adviser to Haibatullah, according to the newspaper.
The assassination of a number of prominent Taliban commanders in Afghanistan's southern provinces, on orders of the Taliban leadership council, is resulting in "unimaginable chaos" within the ranks of the Taliban, said Mohammad Daud Asas, senior adviser to Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah.
"The disputes and divisions have brought the Taliban group to the final point of destruction," he told Salaam Times, adding that ANDSF are taking advantage of the Taliban's weakened state.
"The Afghan government is intensifying its efforts to crack down and completely eliminate the Taliban, so that this terrorist and hate-mongering group will be destroyed as soon as possible," he said.
Taliban morale low
"The internal struggles and conflicts have increasingly undermined the military capabilities of the Taliban and have negatively impacted their fighting morale," said Lt. Gen. Mirza Muhammad Yarmand, former deputy interior minister.
"Weak leadership coupled with lack of trust in the Taliban's leader and senior members has caused Taliban commanders and forces under their command to lose their motivation to fight against the Afghan government," he told Salaam Times.
If the core of the Taliban leadership continue their disputes, there is a strong possibility the group will unravel, Yarmand said.
"The Taliban are moving towards their gradual degeneration and death, and their prominent members are stuck in an atmosphere of distrust and disbelief," a Kandahar-based expert in Taliban affairs told Salaam Times on condition of anonymity.
"The Taliban's consecutive failures and disappointments [...] resulted in mass dismissals of a huge number of prominent Taliban members, including heads of commissions, military commanders, and financial and military officials," he said. "These dismissals have increased the level of tensions and disputes among the Taliban factions."
A golden opportunity
This disunity among the various factions of Taliban forces represents a golden opportunity for the government, said Afghan MP Haji Muhammad Dawood.
"The internal conflicts and fighting among the various groups of the Taliban, as a result of which hundreds of Taliban commanders and fighters have been killed, is detrimental to the existence of Taliban," he told Salaam Times.
"The order to assassinate scores of prominent Taliban members, which was issued by their leadership, represents the culmination of tension and division among the Taliban," he said.
"The Afghan government and the Afghan High Peace Council should take advantage of these differences and tensions among the ranks of Taliban in order to attract and include discontented members of Taliban in the peace process," he said.