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Mullah Mansour biography

September 2, 2015

Summary: In the context of Taliban unity difficulties, the bland biography of new leader of the Taliban trips over itself to show him as a worthy – and totally legitimate – successor to Mullah Omar. While offering nothing on the new leader’s likely political and military directions, it gives interesting clues as to past, present and future Taliban concerns.

Taliban leader: Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour

Taliban leader: Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour

Well you certainly cannot accuse the Taliban of not trying to learn from their media mistakes. Mullah Omar’s biography was launched twenty years after it would have been timely and two years after his death. The Taliban leadership have been slightly more pro-active this time. Within a few weeks of his appointment as Taliban leader, their media machine has launched the biography of their new Amir ul Momineem (Leader of the Faithful), Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour on their official website.
Mullah Mansour was the official deputy head of the Taliban and was appointed the replacement to Omar shortly after news of Omar’s death (which the Taliban now give as 23 April 2013) broke in late July 2015. He was appointed with, according to some commentators and Taliban members, with unseemly haste. The validity of the confirmation process appears to be in dispute and official Taliban media have tried their best to deflect accusations that Mullah Mansour is not the legitimate heir.
This biography – it’s content and timing – should be seen in this context. The two previous statements on the Talban official website at the time of the biography’s release were both strong calls for unity.

The biography

The biog itself is 4,700 words long and, after a preamble that pays respects to the late Mullah Omar and emphasises the key mentoring and ideological importance of the leader, is comprised several distinct headed and chronological sections:

a) His birth (1968, Maiwand district, Kandahar province)
b) Early Education (religious madrassas and limited, failed to complete secondary education)
c) His Jihadi and political struggle (Fought the Soviets from 1985 in the Kandahar area. Wounded in 1987. Injured in 1997 in Mazar-e Sharif area)
d) His foundational role in the Islamic Movement of Taliban (in the Taliban from 1994 “crucial role”. Commanded Kandahar air and air defence systems. In 1996 became Minister of Aviation and Tourism and headed defence ministry air and air defence. Responsible for repairing and developing military and civil aviation)
e) Armed resistance against the American invasion (Member of Taliban’s supreme leadership council, responsible for Kandahar region)
f) As the Deputy Head of the Islamic Emirate (Appointed second deputy to Omar in 2007, became the only deputy to Omar in 2010 with the capture of Mullah Obaidullah and Mullah Berader)
g) After the passing away of Amir-ul-Momineen Mohammad Umar Mujahid (Appointed as Omar’s successor)
h) As the new selected Amir (leader) of the Islamic Emirate (leaders, intellectuals, political and culture figures all pledge allegiance to Mansour)
i) His appointment as new leader from Shariah point of view (Mansour’s appointment was fully compliant with Sharia law)
j) His leading and charismatic personality (“unique leading and guiding capabilities…Piety, sincerity, Jihadi vison…”)
k) His vision and ideological perspectives (Fully aware of regional and international political issues…gravity and dignity…keenly follows the media”)
l) His routine life and some of his characteristics (Likes “marksmanship”…”speaks less and tries to listen more…dislikes extravagance”)

The structure and style is very similar to the Mullah Omar biography. It is bland, uninspiring (at least to a Western reader), largely uninformative and rather predictable).  There are no clues as to Mansour’s likely political and military directions although the loose impressions given suggest more of the same to come.

It is naturally very keen to position Mansour as the natural and legitimate successor to Mullah Omar. The fact that so much time is devoted to demonstrating his jihadi credentials and the legitimacy of the electoral process perhaps shows Taliban sensitivity – and even vulnerability – to this issue.

Curiously, a lot of wordage (dwarfing descriptions of his military prowess are devoted to Mansours administrative and organisation skills in organising and developing all manner of civilian and military air assets – to the extent of providing an itemised list of damaged transport planes, fighter jets and helicopters for which Mansour was responsible for arranging the repair.

Where Mansour’s recent military activities are referred to, they are generally bland and uninformative. Kandahar prison breakouts are referred to in 2003 and 2008. These were spectacular Taliban propaganda victories at the time. Mansour is not lauded as the architect of these operations, which are less powerfully described as taking place while Mansour was in charge of the Kandahar.

The biography acknowledges the “huge military pressure” the Taliban were under in and around 2010. They appear to offer this as the reason for Omar’s lack of visibility and a reason for the importance of Mullah Mansour as the key deputy in pushing things forward.  The word “vacuum” – ie lack of Taliban control occurs twice. Hinting that command and control was a real problem for the Taliban, the biog notes:

Respected Mansur Sahib, with the divine help of Almighty Allah and aid of the leading council of the Islamic Emirate, successfully managed to control and lead the ongoing armed resistance in such an admirable way that no leadership vacuum was ever felt by the Mujahidin.

Interestingly, during the course of this description of the battles of 2010, the Taliban, describing the casualties of ISAF at this time, use the figure of 770 ISAF personnel killed and describe this as the peak.

It was the year 2010 which would prove to be the most fatal and costly year for foreign crusading forces inside Afghanistan. Mujahidin managed to carry out their most fatal campaign against the enemy during the span of that year, forcing them to confess to the deaths of 770 foreign soldiers.

Icasualties give a broadly similar figure of 711. It seems unusual that the Taliban have avoided distortion. My experience of crunching the data of Taliban battlefield claims is now way out of date now, but they are generally highly exaggerated – they must have claimed thousands each year. Have the Taliban accidentally reduced their claims?

There is still something strange about the manner and timing of the release of the information of Omar’s death. My speculation would be that someone (rival insurgent group? internal Taliban faction? Pakistani intelligence? Afghan government? Afghan intelligence?) was attempting to force the Taliban’s hand in an attempt to achieve something (Mansour’s succession? Taliban to engage in talks? Taliban to refrain from talks?). The reason given for concealing Omar’s death (which is given twice in the same paragraph in the biography) is that 2013 was considered by the Taliban to be the critical conflict year

Since 2013 was considered the last year of resistance and struggle for Mujahidin against the foreign invading crusaders therefore several key members of the supreme leading council of the Islamic Emirate and authentic religious scholars together decided on concealing the tragic news of passing away of His Excellency… One of the main reasons behind this decision was due to the fact that 2013 was considered the final year of power testing between the Mujahidin and foreign invaders who in turn had announced that at the end of 2014, all military operations by foreign troops would be concluded.

ISAF had been very publically clear that December 2014 would be the date of departure for the bulk of ISAF troops. It is unclear why 2013 and not the 12 months of 2014 is described here as the “the final year of power testing” by the Taliban. Neither is it clear why Omar’s death was revealed in July 2015 – there is no suggestion that the Taliban themselves took the decision to release it, they merely note that “this depressing news was concealed in an extraordinary way up until 30th July 2015”.

The process accession of Mansour to replace Omar is ambiguous. The biography suggests that “some members” of the supreme council declared allegiance to him [Mansour] on the day Omar died, back in April 2013. But the biog trips over itself to demonstrate the full legitimacy of the process in accordance with Sharia law. Mansour is described as not wanting the job and not putting himself forwards – he “preferred to serve the Emirate as an ordinary worker”. This looks like a formulaic concoction – a true leader is humble and does not want the job.

The biography, having dealt with the weightiest issue of establishing Mansour’s postionas the true leader of the Taliban, concludes with some lines about his personality. This is done in similarly formulaic fashion and emphasises Mansour’s piety and simplicity. His particular interest is “marksmanship” (Omar’s was the RPG-7).

This biography very closely parallels the Mullah Omar biography in style structure and format. In other words it is bland, old fashioned, clunky and out of touch with the modern world. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised.The biography doesn’t really tell us that much but we shouldn’t really expect it to.  But still, what it does (and doesn’t) say can give a few significant leads regarding current Taliban concerns, difficulties and weaknesses. They have tried, this time at least, to get some quick information out on their new leader. But this seems mainly designed to bolster his claim to the throne.  This in itself points to a major question of legitimacy.

The Taliban still have a long way to go in the fast-moving world of 21st century propaganda – something that is clearly demonstrated every time you glance over and consider the works of Russia and Islamic State.

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