Anne Stenersen of the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment has published by far one of the most detailed studies of the Taliban, their structure, leadership and just how they view the world. Its interesting because even after all these years they remain a bit of an enigma beginning with the reclusive founder and supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar.
As Stenersen notes, a lot of the attention within NATO has been on defeating the insurgency or how best to manage it. Less attention has been given to trying to understand who the insurgents are, and what they are fighting for. Even the way we describe them is not very defined. The insurgents are often lumped together as "al Qaeda and the Talban" , even though in many fundamental ways they could be vastly dissimilar, or described as OMF (Other military Forces) as NATO tends to do in militaryspeak, perhaps in the belief that denying them a proper name diminishes them.
On the ground, soldiers often describe the enemy as "anyone shooting at us" making it even more vague. Obviously the nature of the insurgency has something to do with this : the great diversity in Afghanistan's demography and geography means the insurgency can vary from region to region, or even from one village to the other. You could be fighting a Taliban commander in one, and a warlord linked to them in the other.
But the insurgency in Afghanistan is certainly not a collection of small, locally based militas with no overall leadership or structure. And neither do the insurgents themselves see it that way and its important to hear their view of themselves, both in the event of trying to seek reconciliation or to crush them militarily.
Today Mullah Omar's Taliban movement describes itself as a resistance movement with a leadership, organisation structure, a defined goal and strategy and even an official "code of conduct" for its members. And it has made clear repeatedly it likes to be referred to as The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the official name of the regime which ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001.