Jeffrey Dressler and Carl Forsberg of the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War have had another go at trying to explain the functioning of the Quetta Shura of the Taliban (QST) in a new report called The Quetta Shura in Southern Afghanistan: Organization, Operations and Shadow Governance.
Dressler's competent last effort, Securing Helmand, was not specifically about the Quetta Shura, but it covered many of the issues contained in this latest report.
But it has to be said that both reports are frustrating. There is plenty of detail about attacks carried out by the Taliban fighters in southern Afghanistan, but little if any new information about how the organisation operates and how it is evolving. We still know almost nothing about the leadership. Who is in the Quetta Shura? Where do they come from? What is their background? None of these points are answered. Only four or five members of the QST are mentioned by name.
Then there is the question of the relationship between the QST and both al-Qaeda and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. Following the suicide attack on the CIA base at FOB Chapman in Khost on 30 December all three organisations claimed responsibility. Are they really that close? If so, why did the QST issue a statement in the summer distancing itself from the TTP and saying that it no longer wanted to be known as the Taliban? Why indeed did Mullah Omar issue a new rulebook for the organisation last year stressing the need for ethical behaviour by its fighters?
And on foreign fighters, what is the situation? Dressler makes a strong case to support the argument that there is a large presence of foreign fighters in southern Afghanistan under the command of the Taliban. Others suggest that there may be only a hundred or two. If anything, it would appear that most foreigners are travelling to Pakistan to fight with the TTP. Indeed, another Jordanian was killed there this week, this one allegedly a bodyguard of al-Qaeda's No 3, Mustapha Abul Yazid . There is little evidence - certainly in terms of jihadist obituaries - of large numbers of foreigners dying in Helmand.
More light will be shed on the Taliban with the publication of their former Ambassador to Pakistan, Mullah Zaeef's, autobiography, My life with the Taliban, next month. More on that soon. For those of you in London, Alex Strick Van Linschoten, who edited it, will be talking about the book at SOAS on 21 January and at several other venues subsequently. For some reason the Mullah himself cannot make it. The UK official launch will be held at the Frontline Club on 9 February.