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Taliban Supreme Leader’s surprise visit to Kabul: pro-Taliban reactions and resistance activity

In a rare and unannounced visit to Kabul, Taliban Supreme Leader Hibatullah Akhundzada addressed officials, underscoring unity and anti-corruption measures, while insurgent groups seized the opportunity to launch attacks in the capital.


14 Jun 2024

On 16 May 2024, Hibatullah Akhundzada, the Taliban’s Supreme Leader, made a rare visit to Kabul, where he addressed provincial governors and senior security officials, and participated in the closing session of a four-day seminar held at the Ministry of Interior (MoI). According to Taliban supporters, MoI Directors, and provincial military leaders also attended Akhundzada’s speech.

Akhundzada’s journey to Kabul was unexpected, as no announcement was made prior to his arrival. Neither Taliban supporters nor official sources hinted at the possibility of his presence in the capital. 

This marks the second occasion the Supreme Leader has visited Kabul since the group seized control of the city in August 2021. In July 2022, Akhundzada convened a gathering of approximately 3,000 religious leaders and community elders from across Afghanistan, aimed at fortifying relations between the Taliban and the Afghan population. AW note that the Islamic State Khorasan Province attacked this gathering, and assess that his attendance at the recent meeting in Kabul was likely unannounced to prevent the event from being targeted. However, the two events appear to differ as the 2024 visit was amongst Taliban officials rather than the more public gathering in 2022.

On social media, Taliban supporters appeared to celebrate Akhundzada's visit to Kabul, asserting that it debunked claims of internal divisions within the Taliban leadership, particularly regarding the alleged divide between Kabul and Kandahar. Users claimed Akhundzada had travelled from Kandahar to Kabul by road, and alleged that the Supreme Leader’s safe journey was evidence of the country’s peace and stability. Additionally, Taliban sources stated that during his trip, Akhundzada also convened and addressed Taliban officials in Ghazni province.

Mustaghfir Gurbaz, a senior MoI official, shared details of Akhundzada’s participation in the meeting in Kabul in a post on X (formerly Twitter). According to Gurbaz, other important Taliban leaders in attendance included Minister of Defence Mullah Muhammad Yaqub, Director of Intelligence Abdul Haq Wasiq, and Minister of Interior Sirajuddin Haqqani. Akhundzada was reportedly seated on the stage, and before his speech, other participants were invited to the stage to address the attendees. Gurbaz’ description of Akhundzada was presented in very positive and emotive terms.

Taliban supporters shared a 6:49-minute audio summary of Akhundzada's speech in Kabul on X. In this clip, Akhundzada urged Taliban officials to avoid internal ethnic and linguistic differences, inspire closeness among the population, and strive for religious goals. Akhundzada stated that the Taliban’s priority should be safeguarding the religious interests of the public rather than pursuing (personally motivated) benefits on earth. He emphasised the importance of obeying orders from Taliban leadership, and the need for internal cooperation, warning that failure to achieve these goals would result in division and weaken the de facto authority. He strictly forbade interference in other government departments’ affairs.

Akhundzada underscored the importance of combating nepotism, urging officials to prioritise merit over favouritism toward relatives or acquaintances in appointments. Likewise, he directed Taliban authorities to steer clear of land grabbing and to thwart any attempted seizures. He emphasised that interference in the operations of the Taliban’s Commission to Prevent Land Grabbing (which held its first session in October 2022) is strictly prohibited. Furthermore, Akhundzada reminded officials of their important religious obligation to fulfil their duties. He stressed that governors should instruct their subordinates to promptly address people’s needs without delay.

Pro-Taliban accounts attempted to present Akhundzada’s address positively by selecting specific quotes from his speech. Some social media posts imply that his tone may have been perceived as stern. For instance, one post suggests that Akhundzada admonished Taliban officials for engaging in multiple marriages, cautioning them against such practices as they detract from their duties.

Resistance activity in Kabul during Akhundzada's visit

Although no notice was given ahead of Akhundzada’s visit, both Afghanistan Freedom Front (AFF) and National Resistance Front (NRF) claimed attacks targeting areas in Kabul where the Taliban Leader was allegedly present. On 17 May 2024, the day after Akhundzada reportedly arrived in the capital, AFF claimed an attack near the Shah-e Doh Shamsira mosque, in Kabul’s Police District 1. 

The group stated that their targets were the “special guards protecting Taliban leader Mullah Hibatullah,” and claimed to have killed one guard and wounded another. Footage, shared on the group’s social media accounts in three languages, features a large targeted explosion. Despite AW’s inability to geolocate the attack, due to a lack of visibility, the explosion was widely reported by Afghan news agencies before and after AFF’s claim. 

Either before or after the attack, Taliban reinforced security near the MoI, as a precautionary measure, or as a possible outcome of the attack. According to Afghan media sources, Taliban military forces were observed in the Khair Khana 3 area, geolocated to approximately three kilometres from the MoI building, as shown in the figure below.

Figure: Map of Kabul showing the location of the MoI and coordinates [34.571479, 69.144279] of armed Taliban forces during Akhundzada’s visit.

On 19 May 2024, the NRF claimed to have conducted an operation near the Presidential Palace. According to the group, the target of the attack was an “intelligence patrol vehicle of the Taliban,” and the claim made no mention of intent to target Akhundzada. Like the AFF, the NRF claimed to have wounded one Taliban member, and wounded another; AW was unable to confirm any of these deaths or injuries. As it is not clear when Akhundzada left Kabul, it is possible he was no longer in the capital at the time of the attack. AW assess that it is likely that the NRF conducted the operation to showcase the group’s military capabilities under heightened Taliban security protocols, rather than to purposefully target the Taliban leader.

AW geolocated NRF footage of the attack to approximately 300 metres from the entrance of the Presidential Palace, likely the temporary residence of the Supreme Leader whilst in Kabul. The geolocated site was found to be half a kilometre from AFF’s claim, as seen in the figure below.

Figure: Map of Kabul showing the location of the Presidential Palace and reported site of AFF and NRF attacks between 17-19 May 2024.

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