Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
July 30, 2015

Death Of Mullah Omar Will Make Afghan Peace More Difficult And ISIS Stronger

Yesterdays some announcements were made that the leader of the Afghan Taliban Mullah Omar died. It was the fifth or sixth time that Mullah Omar was said to have died so I ignored it. But today the official Taliban political office confirmed the news and said that Mullah Omar had died on April 23 2013 in south Afghanistan.

This confirmation, and the date of the death, will have all kinds of ramifications. Not only in Afghanistan but also in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

A few weeks ago an official Taliban Eid message that was attributed to Mullah Omar. It endorsed negotiations with the Afghan government. Some negotiations were already happening through the good office of the Chinese and with participation of Pakistani and (likely) U.S. government officials. What will happen with those is now up in the air. As Barnett Rubin explains:

The death of Mullah Omar may allow Pakistan to put leaders it controls more fully in charge of the Taliban. It may also cause the Taliban to splinter. Some may stop fighting and enter the system, while others may join even more extremist groups, such as the Islamic State, and fight the governments of both Afghanistan and Pakistan. If the two governments cannot gain the willing participation of most of the Taliban in the peace process, Kabul may demand that Islamabad use force to shut down whatever part of the Taliban’s military machine it does not control directly. But the Pakistani Army [...] will be reluctant to take on a battle-hardened Afghan group, some of whose members it hopes to use as future agents of influence.

Michael Semple adds:

[F]or many involved in the conflict, Mullah Omar’s Islamic Emirate has been a flag of convenience. They should be expected to defy any attempt by his successors to impose a ceasefire. Acknowledgement of Omar’s death is likely to hasten the shift to a multi-actor insurgency in Afghanistan. That would be a bitter reality for Afghans who hope for peace. But ultimately the Afghan government, with continuing international support, should be far more confident of ultimately prevailing over a fragmented insurgency than in a fight against a unified Taliban movement.

I doubt that a fragmented insurgency is more easy to overcome than a united one. With whom will you talk about peace when the Taliban fall apart?

The Taliban named Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansur as new leader of the Taliban but not (yet) as Emir of the Islamic Emirate. [UPDATE: The official Taliban site now named Mansur also as "Amir-ul-Momineen" and thereby as official leader of the Islamic Emirate.] He has been the acting deputy Taliban leader for some time. His rise to power is explained by two huge mistakes in U.S. policy in Afghanistan. Anand Gopal gives this short biography of Mullah Mansur:

  • Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansur is from Band-i-Timor, Maiwand, Kandahar. He fought in 80s jihad in taliban fronts
  • Most notably, he fought for a time under Mullah Faizlullah Akhundzada, alongside Mullah Omar
  • During the Taliban regime he was head of the air force and also the (often absent) head of the civil aviation ministry
  • In 2002 he surrendered & retired to his home in Kandahar, agreeing to abstain from politics. However, the US did not accept reconciliation
  • Militias/US raided his home repeatedly. Final straw came when the US killed Hajji Burget Khan, revered leader of Mansur’s Ishaqzai tribe
  • He asked friends in the Afghan gov’t to protect him, and they advised that he flee to Pakistan. There, he reconnected with old comrades
  • As other important leaders (Osmani, Obaidullah, Beradar) were eliminated, Mansur rose steadily up the ranks to become de facto leader

In 2002 and 2003 U.S. special forces went after former Taliban leaders who had given up fighting and retired. This revenge driven campaign reignited the Taliban. They went back underground and again took up weapons. Then the manhunt campaign against Taliban leaders targeted the most experienced leaders who were in control of the fighters. These were the grown ups one could have talked with. Instead younger, more fierce leaders took over after the elder ones were killed and these are now less likely to agree to compromises. U.S. tactics in Afghanistan restarted a war against the Taliban that had been over and prolonged the new war by killing the leadership ranks of the Taliban who could have made peace.

Like Osama bin Laden the current head of al-Qaeda Ayman al-Zawahiri had pledged allegiance (bay'a) to the Emir of the Islamic Emirate Mullah Omar. He renewed that pledge only last fall. He and his followers now learns that his pledge has been to a dead man. That is a huge disgrace. Jabhat al-Nusra, the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, as well as al-Qaeda in Yemen had prevented their fighters to give bay'a to Caliph Baghdadi and the Islamic State with the argument that al-Qaeda had already given bay'a to Mullah Omar. That argument is now more than dead and the leaders who used it are discredited. A lot of Jabat al-Nusra fighters will now turn towards the Islamic State giving more power to that already quite strong group.

Posted by b on July 30, 2015 at 16:53 UTC | Permalink


Mullah Omar's son, Yaqoob, age 26, is the preferred leader of the young and most militant, including top military commander, Mullah Qaum Zakir, as well as Tayeb Agha, the head of the Taliban's political office in Qatar, and Mullah Habibullah, a member of the Quetta shura. I agree with b - this is not going to end well.

Posted by: okie farmer | Jul 30 2015 18:00 utc | 1

I also agree with B, this is not going end well if indeed it ever ends.

All the issues mentioned in this post foretell nothing other than a very bleak future to this region, which to all intents and purposes has descended into a kind of prehistorical (or its own apocalyptic) state of anarchy. To imagine that all the warring factions could ever hold idealistic notions that peace among them is the best of all “ends”, as opposed to seeking through violence more alluring temptations regarding power-politics, the settling of scores, blood-feuds and deep-rooted ethnic, religious and cultural divisions, is pure fantasy. There simply has been too much blood-letting, treachery and outright betrayal among them. To make matters worse is the constancy of the insanity of outside forces to play favourites with whatever faction (of the day) has the upper hand, only quickly to betray it as circumstances change. That is a good deal of the problem in this region (including the ME); outside interference has been extremely damaging, with immensely tragic consequences. Sadly, in this region of the world (not to forget much of Africa) there does not seem to be any confluence of factors that will ever (at least in the lifetimes of most of us) bring any lasting peace. In the meantime, arms manufacturers and those participating in the arms supply chain mechanisms prosper without any cognizance of the misery of their complicity. Perhaps this is what the Apocalypse is all about, the complete disregard of our fellow human beings, whether actively involved in the mass murders taking place; or simply pretending it does not matter.

What is worse is that the major power source to all this chaos is well insulated by two immense oceans.

Posted by: bjmaclac | Jul 30 2015 19:25 utc | 2

Yeah, well this is "fascinating" speculation but why would effete Manhattan imperial bootlickers--i.e. The New Yorker and Politico--be trusted to provide the straight dope on anything, particularly the situation in Afghanistan? I can't think of a reason. Can any of you?

A lot of Jabat al-Nusra fighters will now turn towards the Islamic State giving more power to that already quite strong group.

Oh please. The "islamic state" are lowlife showboating atrocity whores who wouldn't last a week without massive US/Israeli/Saudi support. You know this so why are you pretending otherwise?

Posted by: Some Guy | Jul 30 2015 19:29 utc | 3

The evil US empire has such a racist and murderous contempt for all of its self created enemies, they can't even leave alone leaders who refuse to fight any more.
That's of course until the Great Satan forces a renewed take up of arms when up against a fascist domination-ist.

So much so that all those repeatable "deaths" by the US hands of the same person that is propagandised so often , of the same jihadi leaders we keep hearing about, could be just the US bombing that leaders grave, for about five or six times. Just to make sure.

Posted by: tom | Jul 30 2015 19:55 utc | 4

To me it is clear that Taliban survives by a combination of a "program" that is somewhat popular, personal, tribal and clan allegiances and terror. Regional "branches" do not need the leadership in the short run, but in the long run they need national "program" to have a better prestige and popularity than mere brigands. There is no simple prescription how to eliminate such movements.

The comparisons with Pakistan and Colombia suggest that there is a ton of ways to make the situation worse, and that on occasion things work out. Apparently, American presence in Afghanistan added yet more ways of making the situation worse. Colonial attitude is that no agreements with savages are binding, so no peace is possible. In more traditional cultures the honor dictates to honor promises, but ... there are various buts. For example, some parties may have their own blood revenge to take care of. Say, tribesman with grievances against local officials, or local militia with grievances against the killers of their family members, or even commercial (?) competition of drug traffickers. However, there is a chance that such occasional unpleasantness can be overcome.

One example of an effective "peace" with former rebels is in Chechnya. I know about a similar situation in Poland: there is an mountainous are with particularly conservative and surly population, and for years Communist government could not get rid of local guerilla. Then there was peace, and for decades all posts in local Communist party and administration were occupied by quite corrupt alumni of that guerilla. At least they did not maintain death squads.

Posted by: Piotr Berman | Jul 30 2015 20:57 utc | 5


I can't think of any reason to believe them either. I hold them in the same regard as Kenneth Roth, of the preceeding post.

So who whacked Mullah Omar? The USA in some shape or form, no doubt. And issued the statement after his death that threw yet another monkey-wrench into the stripped gearbox of Muslim anti-colonial revolution.

I think that "the good offices of the Chinese and with participation of Pakistani and (NOT likely) U.S. government officials" will eventually sort out Afghanistan, just as the good offices of Russia and (NOT likely) German government officials will eventually sort out Ukraine. The emphasis - sadly for the poor Afghan and Ukrainian people, who have needlessly suffered so much at the hands of the USA and NATO - is on 'eventually'.

Posted by: jfl | Jul 31 2015 1:14 utc | 6

Mullah Omar died of TB.

Posted by: okie farmer | Jul 31 2015 6:41 utc | 7


Thanks for the information. Wonder who issued his 'last' letter?

Posted by: jfl | Jul 31 2015 9:52 utc | 8


Evangelicals assume the Apocalypse is an Event, rather than an Epoch, however, other religions are more amenable to considering this Era to be an Evolution:

"Attention, please. This is your ancestors speaking. We've been trying to reach you through your dreams and fantasies, but you haven't responded. That's why we've commandeered this space. So listen up. We'll make it brief. You're at a crossroads analogous to a dilemma that has baffled your biological line for six generations. We ask you now to master the turning point that none of us have ever figured out how to negotiate. Heal yourself and you heal all of us. We mean that literally. Start brainstorming, please.

I hope that you will be energized by the signs of creeping benevolence and waxing intelligence. As you absorb the evidence that an aggressive strain of compassion is loose in the world, maybe you will conclude that activism actually works, and you'll be motivated to give yourself with confidence to the specific role you can play in manifesting the ultimate goal: to create a heaven on earth in which everyone alive is a healthy, free, self-actualized, spiritually enlightened being dedicated to living sustainably."

Rob Brezsny

Posted by: Chipnik | Jul 31 2015 11:31 utc | 9

The Taliban has always been heavily factionalized along tribal, family and regional lines. I would be amazed if ISIS became the major player in the game as there is a tremendous suspicion of and animosity toward outsiders, which is one of the reasons Al Qaeda faded away as a factor in the region. I think analysts typically overestimate the "control" that the Pakistani government has over the Taliban, which is limited to specific factions and waxes and wanes depending on what's being offered.

Posted by: Gareth | Jul 31 2015 12:41 utc | 10

At the Taliban meeting this week where Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour was named as the Islamist militant group's new head, several senior figures in the movement, including the son and brother of late leader Mullah Omar, walked out in protest.

The display of dissent within the group's secretive core is the clearest sign yet of the challenge Mansour faces in uniting a group already split over whether to pursue peace talks with the Afghan government and facing a new, external threat - Islamic State.

Rifts in the Taliban leadership are likely to widen after confirmation this week of the death of elusive founder Omar.

Mansour, Omar's longtime deputy who has been effectively in charge for years, favors talks to bring an end to more than 13 years of war. He recently sent a delegation to inaugural meetings with Afghan officials hosted by Pakistan, hailed as a breakthrough.

But Mansour, 50, has powerful rivals within the Taliban who oppose negotiations, notably battlefield commander Abdul Qayum Zakir, a former inmate of the U.S. prison in Cuba's Guantanamo Bay.

Zakir is pushing for Mullah Omar's son Yaqoob to take over the movement, and a sizeable faction also supports Yaqoob.

Yaqoob and his uncle Abdul Manan, Omar's younger brother, were among several Taliban figures who walked out of Wednesday's leadership meeting held in the western Pakistani city of Quetta, according to three people who were at the shura, or gathering.

"Actually, it wasn't a Taliban Leadership Council meeting. Mansoor had invited only members of his group to pave the way for his election," said one of the sources, a senior member of Taliban in Quetta.

"And when Yaqoob and Manan noticed this, they left the meeting."

Posted by: okie farmer | Jul 31 2015 17:29 utc | 11

From The Nation... Senior Taliban leaders oppose Mullah Akhtar Mansour as new head

Kabul: Certain senior members of the Taliban have reportedly opposed appointment of Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour as the successor of Taliban's late Supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar.

Mansour was elected, according to a Taliban statement to the media on Thursday, as the new leader of the Taliban after the Afghan government and as well as the Taliban confirmed the reclusive Mullah Omar died in 2013.

According to Afghan media, Abdul Qayoum Zakir, Taliban's military head; Mullah Habibullah, a member of Taliban Quetta Shura; and Sayed Tayib Agha, head of Taliban's political office in Qatar are among the senior Taliban members that disagree the appointment of Mansour – who was Mullah Omar's deputy.

Posted by: CTuttle | Jul 31 2015 19:57 utc | 12

Oh please. The "islamic state" are lowlife showboating atrocity whores who wouldn't last a week without massive US/Israeli/Saudi support. You know this so why are you pretending otherwise?

Some Guy @3

I sorta agree with where you're going, Some Guy, but you can't be so dismissive, especially where it concerns Salafism. The Islamic State represents a certain very real and very Saudi government backed strand of Salafist madness:

ISIS will challenge [Taliban] religious legitimacy and claim to be more pious and religiously pure than its competitor. In a recent issue of its propaganda magazine, Dabiq, a defector from Al-Qaeda to ISIS criticized Omar for his "significant Shariah mistakes."

Amongst the group's "deviations" is its association with the Deobandi movement, and, indeed, its membership of the Hanafi school of jurisprudence. ISIS—together with most Salafi groups—holds itself above such things, regarding them as innovations of the faith that came after the time of the salaf (early generations of Muslims).

Overall, I take a somewhat optimistic perspective. Surely there _will_ be a split, and there will be a stronger ISIS. But if half the Taliban settles with the government, and this is backed by Pakistan and China, that means a more peaceful Afghanistan and a more isolated resistance with less popular support.

Big picture, this is more evidence of the receding (and pissed off about it) power of Saudi Arabia and its Salafism uber alles crusade, because of the major recent move, Pakistan turning away. Pakistan businessmen want to make money, and China needs to make a strong military/strategic push through Pakistan. And China is willing to spend far more money on things Pakistan businessmen (and Pakistan's workers, for that matter) want than Saudi Arabia ever did or will.

Based on that logic, the US probably will be happy with a partial settlement and a still violent but not across-the-board rebellious Afghanistan. It can justify keeping 25,000 troops and mercenaries there because of the remaining violence, thereby maintaining capacity to exert regional influence and chaos. Afghan patriots/sovereigntists really shouldn't want that, though ...

Posted by: fairleft | Aug 1 2015 4:32 utc | 13

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