Skip to content

Taliban Eid address – no surprises?

September 25, 2015

Summary: The new Taliban leader’s Eid address was probably produced by the same team that produced the old leader’s words. It unsurprisingly continues the themes of previous addresses: the nearness of the (now 14 year) jihad to victory, multiple calls for unity, the importance of avoiding civilian casualties and the removal of foreign forces as a precondition for talks. Mullah Mansour looks to be emphasising continuity as he attempts to placate and incorporate Taliban unhappy with his appointment.

Taliban flag

Mansour's Eid address, September 2015

Mansour’s Eid address, September 2015

The new leader of the Taliban, Mullah Mansour, has given his first official address on the Taliban’s official website, congratulating Muslims on the occasion of Eid ul Adha.

A 2,950-word statement, twice as long as last year’s address, begins by sending condolences on the death of his predecessor, Mullah Omar.  It talks of the struggles of the fourteen year jihad under Omar and stresses that he, Mansour, will struggle with the burden of leadership unless he receives help and cooperation.

Mansour describes the Taliban’s “jihad” as “nearing its victory” but cautions that the enemy is trying to sow “dischord and

Taliban leader: Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour

Taliban leader: Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour

distrust among the Mujahideen by utilizing propaganda stratagems” by a variety of means. He warns of “baseless rumors”.
Mansour accuses the Kabul government of harassing the Afghan populace and reminds his own fighters not to cause civilian casualties and to show the population respect:

“Mujahideen are not allowed, under any circumstance, to resort to activities based on their own discretion that are contrary to sharia or you have in mind some goals which do not coincide with the pleasure of the Almighty Allah but which only pleases the intrinsic whims of your souls.”

The Taliban’s Political Office is described as “the only exclusive” means of engaging in talks and it is made clear that intra-Afghan talks, with the Afghan government renouncing treaties with “invaders” is the only way to achieve peace in Afghanistan.

The address dismisses international construction work in Afghanistan as “short-terms and are of low quality and spurious” and warns of the rise of militias, warlords and ethnic clashes.

The style, tone and themes employed here are not significantly different to previous Eid addresses attributed to Mullah Omar and we should not expect them to be. Earlier statements had been produced under Mullah Omar’s name when he was – we have now established – already dead. It is likely that the statements are joint efforts from within a group inside the Taliban’s core “Quetta Shura” Leadership Council. It may well be that Mullah Mansour played a key role in directing previous statements.

Eid address attributed to Mullah Omar, October 2014

Eid address attributed to Mullah Omar, October 2014

Mansour seemingly acknowledges the struggles he still has to convince all Taliban supporters that he is now the legitimate head of the Taliban. He refers to the need for support for him and unity for the movement. Beyond the calls for unity – which we noted with increasing regularity in earlier “Mullah Omar” addresses – come other familiar themes:

  •  the Jihad is very close to victory
  • beware the enemy attempts to create divisions in the Taliban through propaganda and the spreading of rumours
  • The population are being mistreated by the Afghan regime – the Taliban must treat the people well and do all that is possible to avoid civilian casualties
  • The only way ahead for talks is for the Afghan regime to renounce all treaties and engagement with the international community and settle the conflict Afghan to Afghan
  • Warnings of inter-ethnic tensions and the rise of militias and warlords

The Islamic Emirate believes if the country is not under occupation, the problem of the Afghans can be resolved through intra-Afghan understanding. Any foreign pressure under the pretext of resolving the Afghan problem, is not going to resolve the problem but will rather create other problems.

If the Kabul Administration wants to end the war and establish peace in the country, it is possible through ending the occupation and revoking all military and security treaties with the invaders.

Analysis and Outlook

The sense from this address is that the new Mullah Mansour era wants to present a united front and “business as usual” vice any new ideas or initiatives. This is perhaps unsurprising given the power struggles and challenges to his legitimacy that have been revealed through the late summer and autumn.  Mansour has, in the past, been seen more as a political and pro-talks animal than an out and out fighting jihadi.  However, while Mansour is attempting to consolidate, he is unlikely to want to lurch in any new directions, even if he does have new ideas.

Perhaps Mansour wants to make it through the winter. Fighting will inevitably subside as the weather worsens. This might allow a breathing space in which he can develop support, plans and consider any new strategies. We might have to wait until the Spring of 2016 to see the fruits of these deliberations.  However, there is no guarantee that new ideas will be forthcoming.  The twin messages “the fight continues” and “no talks until the last foreign invader has left Afghan soil” remain difficult-to-shift dead weights around the neck of the leadership, throttling flexibility, regardless of who is in charge.

Afghanistan and the sexual abuse of children

September 22, 2015

Summary: Sexual abuse and grooming of young children (mainly boys) for sexual abuse remains a repugnant, so-called “cultural” practice in Afghanistan.  Whether, when and how to challenge it remains a significant dilemma for international forces keen to keep anti-Taliban forces cooperative and effectively fighting the Taliban

A disturbing report in the New York Times highlights a problem too often swept under the carpet:

WASHINGTON — A report describing how American forces looked the other way as powerful Afghans raped boys with impunity — an issue that long plagued the war effort in Afghanistan — prompted declarations of outrage in Washington on Monday, but officials said the problem was ultimately for Afghans to solve.

The Pentagon insisted that it never ordered troops to ignore any kind of rights abuse. But among American military personnel and civilians who served in Afghanistan, it was well-known that many wealthy and prominent Afghans rape boys, often making them dress up as women and dance at gatherings during which they are assaulted — and that Western officials often turned a blind eye to the practice for fear of alienating allies.

With the bulk of American troops now gone from Afghanistan, the resignation among American officials over a practice that many described as “abhorrent” was evident on Monday. It seemed to reflect the fact that while the rape of boys may shock foreigners and infuriate Afghans, it is only one of the many problems in Afghanistan.

Western forces in Afghanistan have struggled to reconcile the need to defeat the Taliban with the corruption, nepotism, and a host of other abuses conducted by those anti-Taliban forces with which they must cooperate in order to achieve that goal.

Looking the other way when some petrol goes missing is moderately straightforward. Photos of ISAF troops walking through fields of poppy brought some controversy but could just about be sold on the basis that local livelihoods are being destroyed with nothing to replace it.  British troops (amongst others, I am sure), reported situations where Afghan police in Helmand were revealing British fighting positions by the simple process of standing by them long enough to enable Taliban fighters to get a fix.  The sexual abuse of young children – mainly boys (see Bacha Bazi)- by warlords is way over on the other end of the scale and begs the question: when is “local cultural values” insufficient as a defence and should be challenged?  There is a to and fro debate in the US regarding whether US forces have been instructed to ignore abuses.  The Pentagon argues that it is not official policy, nor have instructions been issued, that US personnel in Afghanistan should ignore reporting sexual crimes.

Military Times, dated 21 September 2015: A Florida congressman demanded the Pentagon make clear its opposition to child sexual abuse and offer some protection for troops who tried to stop the heinous crime while serving in Afghanistan. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., called the revelations in the Times report disgraceful and disturbing.

“Protecting child predators is abhorrent and inconsistent with our values as a nation,” he wrote in a letter Monday to Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs. “It is bad enough if the Pentagon is telling our soldiers to ignore this type of barbaric and savage behavior, but it’s even worse if we are punishing those who try to stop it.”

Also on Monday, Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif, fired off a letter asking the Pentagon to provide “any and all existing Department of Defense legal guidance regarding the reporting of child abuse.” Hunter also recently asked the Defense Department’s inspector general to review the Army’s handling of a soldier who was punished for his aggressive response to the child sexual abuse in Afghanistan.

Top military officials said Monday that there is no written regulation requiring troops to turn a blind eye.

“There is no such policy that U.S. troops should not report or intervene in situations where children are being sexually abused,” said Army Col. Brian Tribus, a spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

I sincerely hope that that is the case.  But of course “official policy” can mean different things.  I am guessing that a US officer on the ground might face a few administrative, bureaucratic and even career-threatening hurdles if he attempt to press home an official complaint that undermined a key anti-Taliban warlord whose forces were holding together the security of a wobbly province.

Definitely need to watch this issue…

DIIS conference: NATO after Ukraine – back to basics?

September 10, 2015

Summary: There are many evolving and complex global challenges facing the NATO Alliance. Russian fears and vulnerabilities have pushed it into overt and heavy-handed military adventures. But the military threat to NATO posed by this activity is more about accident and miscalculation than about an existential threat to the NATO Alliance, despite the concerns of Eastern European member nations. For NATO to design its future expenditure, planning and training solely around the notion that “it is just about Russia” would be misguided.

NATO symbol, flags and HQThe North Atlantic treaty Organisation (NATO) was established in 1949, shortly after the massive power shift in Europe brought about by the conclusion of the Second World War. Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” saw the expansion of Soviet military power right into the heart of central Europe. Western powers wanted security agreements: “to keep the Americans in, the Russians out and the Germans down”.

Its prime raison d’etre was Article V of the Treaty which declared that an attack on one member was an attack on all. It was written at a time when there could be only one enemy: the Soviet Union.

NATO expansion through the agesThe official line now: “It is often said that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was founded in response to the threat posed by the Soviet Union. This is only partially true. In fact, the Alliance’s creation was part of a broader effort to serve three purposes: deterring Soviet expansionism, forbidding the revival of nationalist militarism in Europe through a strong North American presence on the continent, and encouraging European political integration.”

NATO remained in existence after the demise of its former foe, the Soviet Union. It was involved militarily in the Balkans conflicts of the 1990s, notably the bombing campaign against Serbia in 1999.

Since the demise of the Soviet Union, there has been much debate about what NATO’s role could and should be. Many saw it as a natural progression for NATO to develop an expeditionary capability that could allow it to operate “out of area”. Article V has thus far been invoked only once: in the immediate aftermath of the 11 September 2001 suicide attacks on the US mainland by the international Islamic terrorist group, Al Qaeda. NATO forces, as the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), deployed to Afghanistan in 2001 and remained there formally until December 2014, engaging in a complex and costly counter-insurgency campaign against the Taliban.

With the return of a seemingly more obvious threat from Russia, following its annexation of the Crimea and its sponsorship of a conflict in Ukraine’s Donbass region, there is a sense amongst many commentators that, after a deeply unpleasant “out of areas” experience, NATO should perhaps get back to basics and concentrate on European security.

I attended a conference organised by the Danish Institute for International Studies on Tuesday 8th September to hear a discussion addressing precisely this point.
“NATO after Ukraine: Time to go back to basics?”

The speakers were:

Karsten Jakob Möller (General Rtd., DIIS senior analyst)
Flemming Spidsboel (DIIS Senior Researcher)
Trine Flockhart (Prof. International Relations, University of Kent)
John Deni (Research Professor, US Army War College)

How things change. The introduction noted that the 60th anniversary of NATO, in 2009, had been a very different world. NATO was heavily engaged in Afghanistan and many NATO members were also operating in Iraq. There was a global financial crisis unfolding and the talk was of NATO expanding and finding/developing new roles.
It was also pointed out that, even relatively recently, in 2002, a DIIS paper had considered the possibility (under the title “Thinking the Unthinkable”) that Russia might even end up joining NATO.

How serious is the Russian threat?

Karsten Jakob Möller

• Important to consider the perspective from Moscow – it feels threatened – an extension of Russia’s historical insecurity of the “enemy at the gate”.
• Putin has been warning about the West’s arrogance. In 2007 he spoke of Western exceptionalism, bending the rules of world order to suit Western agendas. He warned NATO not to expand any further.
• Ukraine as an “open wound” – Russia cannot understand why Ukraine wants independence and sees the Ukraine revolution as a Western/CIA-orchestrated plot. The conflict in Eastern Ukraine will keep a certain level of instability to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO.
• Military muscle-flexing is being applied by Russia towards Sweden and Finland, to prevent them entertaining ideas about joining NATO.
• But the Russian Army still has problems – it has poorly educated conscripts but is trying to field increasingly high-tech weapons systems.
• The Baltic states and Poland are very concerned – Russia has a habit of delivering very heavy-handed warnings.
• There is not so much that is new about “Hybrid Warfare” but it does raise the question of how NATO addresses Article V when it is increasingly difficult to define an attack.
• Russian military doctrine has not changed so much from 2010.
• Despite the Russian budget increases and investment in new hardware, they will never catch up with the US and are currently doing no more than trying to make up for the lack of investment in the 1990s.
• The real risk comes from a war by accident.

russian soldiers on paradeFlemming Spidsboel

• Russia’s perspective – the West/US monopolising international systems to intervene as it wishes.
• The 2008 war with Georgia possibly intended as a warning to the West. Russia’s “quasi-ideology” of political competitiveness – a state goes to the wall if it cannot adapt and change.
• NATO only started to crop in Russian military doctrines as “the threat” by 2000. It is becoming the excuse – the threat to distract Russians from all their internal problems.
• Military threat from Russia: it does not pose a threat t NTO – not even in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and not into the long-term. The Russian defence budget is mainly “catch up” and corruption, kickbacks and other inefficient use of the budget will hamper its full impact.
• The non-military threat – increasingly sophisticated propaganda – Sputnik radio station. But Lithuania was short-sighted when it closed down access to Russian media. It is difficult to find evidence that Russia is a threat to NATO’s internal cohesion.
• But we do have another Cold War and need to revise training and expenditure.


What did NATO get wrong? We didn’t consult enough with the Russians and we under-estimated the extent to which NATO was being made the culprit for a range of Russian problems. The West has been “extremely arrogant” – a large part of the world no longer wants to accept this.

Back to Basics in a changing strategic environment

Trine Flockhart

• The “back to basics” narrative has arisen in the aftermath of Crimea/East Ukraine – the idea that NATO should return to its core value of a defensive alliance. But this is flawed.
• The Ukraine crisis did not come out of nowhere – there are huge global changes underway of a greater impact even than the end of the Cold War.
• The NATO Summit in Wales in 2014 approved, amongst other things: Readiness Action Plan, 2% spending goal, collective defence (and training for it) and an enhanced ability to counter hybrid warfare.
• The problems with “Back to Basics”:

o It implies that going back is possible
o It emphasises only one aspect of a changing environment
o It defines what is politically possible but ignores what is strategically necessary
o It is effectively “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic” when what is really needed is a dry dock overhaul…

• The B2B narrative is therefore flawed: NATO was always a defensive alliance, it was always about collective defence (Art V) and collective security (Art II). Since the Balkans, NATO has been an expeditionary security organisation engaged in crisis management: “Out of Area or Out of Business”!
• If NATO was purely about defence it would have disbanded in 1992, but it has three legs that allow it flex – defence, cooperation and crisis management.
• B2B hearkens back to a mythical era that was not there.
• There are other symptoms of bigger changes/challenges:

o Changing global power relations – decline of Europe and US
o New forms of international actors – eg ISIS
o Challenges to Western liberal principle and practice
o Lack of legitimate global institutions, eg UN, World Bank
o Changes in demographics/migration
o Changes in technology and access to it
o Environmental change
o New and emerging threats
o New practices in war – cyber and hybrid

• Julianne Smith talks of an “era of compounding complexity” – challenges grow exponentially rather than by addition. Complex trends interact with one another and new security challenges emerge.
• Ironically, NATO has a lot of good, forward-looking, horizon-scanning, planning capability (Allied Command Transformation, Comprehensive Strategy Guidance, Defence Planning, Division for Emerging Security Challenges, Policy Planning Unit…). But still the B2B narrative dominates.
• The international order is going through a period of major transformative change: from multi-polar (pre-WWII), through bi-polar (Cold War, 1945 – 1990), though uni-polar (US dominance from 1991 to present) to multi-order.
• In this coming multi-order world there will be major challenges for NATO. B2B gives a politically convenient framework to make it look as if something is being done…
• NATO should:

o Implement the agreements made in Wales but do not see that then as “job done”, but rather the bare minimum.
o Understand the new transatlantic bargain – Europe must take more responsibility for itself as the US pivots to the Pacific – new division of labour and political willingness to get hands dirty.
o Understand the importance of partnerships as a diplomatic tool – values-based partnerships as an alternative to membership – eg Georgia and Ukraine?

John Deni

• NATO is rebalancing after a long time of imbalance – COIN, reconstruction, Afghanistan…
• Many allies want the Capacity to undertake Out Of Area operations as well.
• How can NATO effectively do all three of its legs – collective defence, crisis management and defence cooperation?
o Collective defence: there is a credibility gap. NATO has problems projecting its power around Europe – high readiness forces often found wanting (failure to be able to deploy in response to Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968). NATO’s ability to undertake combined manoeuvre warfare has atrophied.
o Crisis Management: NATO needs to maintain a security horizon beyond Europe and be able to undertake expeditionary and stability operations.
o Cooperative security: NATO can spread itself too thinly – too many initiatives coming out of Wales summit (establishing 21 “Centres of Excellence”?) particularly as manpower and budgets shrink.
• It is clear the Russia is not interested in partnership with NATO and pursues a zero-sum game. Geography is driving Russia’s foreign policy – Russia’s lack of defensible borders.


The most interesting engagement at the end came from a representative from the Russian Embassy asked two questions:
Q1: Why at this sort of conference, have Russian speakers not been invited – it is much better, surely to have a dialogue? KJM answered – we have tried so many times to engage with Russian speakers. Often they are booked and simply do not turn up.
Q2: It is clear that NATO intends to have as many members as possible – what is the assessment of the readiness of Ukraine and Georgia? JD answered – it is entirely inaccurate that NATO wants as many as possible. And, in any case, NATO has a rule that a country may not join NATO if it has an ongoing armed conflict. Mr Putin has very effectively exploited this by ensuring, with slow-burn conflicts in both Ukraine and Georgia, that it is not possible for either to join.


A very useful set of complimentary and clear-eyed presentations. It was perhaps a little surprising to hear the military threat from Russia downplayed quite as much as it was – small comfort to tiny Baltic states that could be swallowed in a gulp by even a quarter-way competent Russian military force. I can see some analytical divisions on this between Western and Eastern European member nations (the next NATO summit is due to be in Warsaw in 2016, if there is a clue there as to likely agenda).

But Trine Flockhart’s wider contextual thoughts on the growing complexity of global challenges in the multi-order world – and how NATO should throw off the naivety of a back to basics approach – were particularly compelling.

From my own local perspective, it was also interesting that Sweden and Finland waere mentioned at several points – albeit briefly – as a) potential NATO members and, therefore, b) possible targets for Russian “heavy-handed” demonstrations.

The “vicious circle” nature of the problem is stark:

Country a feels threatened by Russian posturing
Country a joins alliance to improve security prospects
Russia feels threatened by country a joining a security alliance and resorts to more military posturing
Country b then feels threatened…

With the risk of accident or miscalculation ever present at every stage…

“The younger generation is leaving the country”: migration from Afghanistan increasing?

September 8, 2015

Summary: Instability and uncertainty remain major problems for Afghanistan.  More evidence of migration of young Afghans away from their country.

Afghan map outlineAn interesting and worrying report from NBC News, highlighting what seems to be a surge in young Afghans leaving the country to escape the violence and to seek new life opportunities. Kabul bus station is witnessing a dramatic increase in the demand for seats on buses for border provinces (eg Nimruz in the country’s south west) as a springboard out.

NBC News, 5 September 2015: Business has never been better for Mohammad Nassir, a manager in the Afghan capital’s main bus station. And it fills him with grief.

“The young generation is leaving the country,” said Nassir, who works for Tolo Bus Services. “I see families saying goodbye to their loved ones for the last time and it breaks my heart.”
“I should be happy because for me business is booming — it has gone up by four times — but I am not happy at all,” he said.

Nassir is witnessing an Afghan exodus as civilians across the country flee spiraling violence and uncertainty. Until two months ago, between 15 and 20 buses, each carrying up to 55 passengers, set off for the border province of Nimruz every day. That number has jumped to between 70 and 80 buses, Nassir said.”

The report also quotes UN figures that support this:

“NBC News, 5 September 2015: While many are settling in neighboring countries, a growing number are making the arduous trip to Europe. According to the United Nation’s refugee agency UNHCR, 77,731 Afghans applied for asylum in Europe in the first six months of 2015 — up from 24,154 who did so in the same period in 2014. Afghans are second only to Syrians in claiming asylum in Europe, the UNHCR numbers show.
And on Thursday, the government’s Afghan government’s Ministry of Refugees and Repatriations said it had witnessed “unprecedented” levels of migration toward European countries.”

As a barometer for the country’s current and future prospects, this kind of information is valuable and alarming. It is caused by several interwoven factors:

Afghans are voting with their feet where, a few years ago, they were voluntarily electing to return.

And from the other persective, Afghans are resisiting returning to the country.  The issue of forced repatriation of Afghan refugees back to Afghanistan remains controversial for a country which is still experiencing great difficulties in providing resources and security for the existing population. The new Afghan Minister for Repatriation and Refugees, Mr. Hossein Alami Balkhi, issued an urgent appeal, in February 2015, for all countries to stop forced returns of Afghans. Mr Balkhi was particularly concerned about the plight of women and children, those with mental and physical problems, those who are particularly vulnerable and those being sent back to provinces still considered dangerous. Your client is likely to fall within these categories given his mental health and documented vulnerabilities along with coming from Kunar province which is dangerous as it remains a centre of significant activity for the Taliban.

In an interview with a Norwegian journalist on 21 February, the Minister explained himself thus (with my emphasis in bold, I have also lightly edited it for typos):

“Considering the current situation of Afghanistan we sent a letter through the foreign ministry to all those countries with whom the MOUs were signed to revise the MOUs and do not return anyone back to Afghanistan. whether they are single or with family, until we make new agreements. They shouldn’t deport anyone because we can’t take care of them here…I have long term plans, but we have to wait until we can execute those plans. I am sure if there are opportunities in Afghanistan, the Afghans will return back to their country voluntarily. We have requested the deporting countries through letters not to deport anyone, because we cannot take care of them here. Literally if they deport anyone back to Afghanistan we would not accept them in the airport and they will have to take them back. The reason behind doing this is that in the MOUs that were signed with receiving countries it was clearly stated that only those will be returned back to Afghanistan whose provinces are safe and they are able to live in those provinces. But most of the people who have been deported since now are from the provinces that are very dangerous to live in and it is impossible for the deportees to go and live in those provinces…It is not sensible to say that all these people should be returned back to Kabul. Norwegian authorities argue that if the provinces that the deportees come from are dangerous then they can be returned back to Kabul, because Kabul is safe. There is no logic behind this kind of statement. It is not possible to re-settle 7 million returnees who are living in exile only in Kabul. Kabul does not have the capacity to take care of this many returnees. It will also be insensible to say that only those who have been returned from Norway should be re-settled in Kabul. It is clearly stated in the MOUs that they should be re-settled back to the provinces they have come from, not Kabul.”

The Minister’s statements do not appear to have been converted into official government policy. But in June 2015, President Ashraf Ghani strongly echoed Minister Balkhi’s sentiments in a speech made on World Refugee Day, the 20th June. He noted the difficulties for those Afghans returning to the country from illegally seized properties, deprivation of rights and the lack of basic amenities available. In closing, he specifically mentioned the plight of Afghan asylum seekers in Europe:

“It is also worth mentioning that thousands of Afghans live as refugees in Europe, Australia, Canada, United States and other countries and have benefited from their hospitality and services. But recently an increasing number of Afghan refugees have faced the risk of getting expelled because of lack of documentation.

My request to those countries is to take into account our problems this year and stop expelling Afghan asylum seekers. The story of our refugees is a sad part of our modern history.” [1]

The European migration “crisis” is unlikely to end any time soon.

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.

Russia/Ukraine: painful history as ugly propaganda…

August 31, 2015

Summary: History isn’t past. It seems the favoured insult in the Russia/Ukraine propaganda war is to accuse the other of being in the SS…

Russia and Ukraine have been provoking each other with accusations and insults coming from the 1940s.

The Russo-German war of 1941-45 was surely the most brutal part of a brutal world war. It seems still to be under-analysed by Western historians, who focus on Mediterranean, Pacific and north-west European campaigns which are presumably easier-to-research.

On the Russian front it was not just the millions of soldiers, employing tens of thousands of tanks, artillery and aircraft, to wage unrestrained warfare over a vast area, it was the appalling range of atrocities, committed on both sides.

A central aspect of this latter history of atrocity was the role of Hitler’s elite formations, the Schutzstaffeln (“defence echelon”, or “protection wing”) – most notoriously known as the SS.

I do not intend to do a detailed study of the SS here, or the Russian Front, for that matter, but just to sketch in the important background. The force expanded from an initial role as a series of Nazi bodyguards and ceremonial troops in the 1930s to a fighting role, in the vanguard as shock troops, known as the Waffen (ie armed or weapon)-SS. These forces combined the cream of Germany’s indoctrinated youth with the best military hardware.

Russia and Ukraine, both parts of the Soviet Union at the time, fought against the Nazi invasion and suffered casualties on a horrific scale.  As the war progressed, so the size and role of SS increased. It surged from a pre-war force of three regiments (approximately 9,000 soldiers) to 38 divisions (around, say, 380,000 soldiers).  Casualties rose as well – the inevitable fate awaiting shock troops – and new fronts opened.  SS troops were engaged in ethnic and political “cleansing” of rear areas and the quality control of recruits was relaxed for these operations which relied more on policing and terror tactics than any military skills.  Poland, Belarus, Ukraine and Western Russia were particularly subject to Nazi policies of imprisonment, looting, torture and extermination.

Other ethnicities, often from territories newly occupied by the German Army, were brought in to do these less-savoury tasks. Wikipedia suggests a very plausible list of the countries that were represented in the SS and it makes surprising reading for those who may not have travelled this historical area before (UK, France, Sweden, US, India…). It includes soldiers numbering in the thousands from both Russia and Ukraine.

Wikipedia: Foreign SS units were made up from recruits in Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium (both Wallonia and Flanders), Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Galicia, Georgia, Hungary, India, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Russia (including Cossack and Tatar, Turkic SSR Republics), Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Ukraine, Independent State of Croatia, Asian Regiment, Arab Regiment, USA (15-20 volunteers) and a small number of British troops.

Where the controversy arises – and where the propaganda appears to really bite, is the documented role that some Ukrainian and Russian individuals, commanders and larger military bodies played as members of the SS during the 1940s.

My enemy’s enemy…

When the German Army invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941 they were invariably welcomed by Ukrainian peasants who had been through various Soviet purges and famines for the previous ten years. This turned into active anti-Nazi partisan resistance once the German intention to subjugate rather than liberate became clear.  In the latter stages of the war, these partisans, empowered by arms, combat experience and nationalist spirit, then turned against Soviet Army as it started to reoccupy Ukraine.  Until a couple of years ago I had not realised that a counter-insurgency between the Ukrainian nationalist partisans and the Soviet Union went on well after the World War Two had finished – even up to 1959.

The Waffen-SS division No. 14 “Galicia” division comprised largely Ukrainian volunteers who fought the Soviet Army. In the dying hours of World War Two, the division was renamed 1st Division of the Ukrainian National Army. Many Ukrainians see the division’s history, including its role in the SS, as part of the birth of modern Ukraine and celebrate the leaders and soldiers as nationalist heroes for fighting against the Soviets.

Let’s balance this out a little. Several hundred thousand of Russian soldiers, of those captured in the big encirclement battles of 1941-42, served in the Wehrmacht. The Russian Liberation Army, under ex-Soviet General Andrey Vlasov, was organised from such Russian prisoners. This seems to have been largely a propaganda force with only a few thousand troops actually fighting in combat. In addition to these forces, a Cossack cavalry division was formed in 1943. The two Cossack cavalry divisions that ultimately emerged were known as the XV Cavalry Corps. They were later (in February 1945) transferred to command of the SS and became the XV SS Cossack Cavalry Corps.

Waffen SS and Cossacks in Warsaw 1944

Waffen SS and Cossacks on operations in Warsaw, 1944

SS Chief Heinrich Himmler inspects troops of the 14

SS Chief Heinrich Himmler inspects troops of the 14 “Galicia” SS Division in 1944

As part of the Russian response to Ukraine’s Maidan series of protests, Russia’s subsequent annexation of the Crimea and the Russian-sponsored conflict in Eastern Ukraine, the Russian propaganda machine has consistently hurled “Nazi” and “fascist” insults at Ukraine, building on a small germ of truth that can be blown up and distorted.

crimea swastika

Ukraine’s role in World War Two is historically complex. It is also still politically sensitive, particularly to a country that is still weak and vulnerable after a period of revolutionary turmoil and with an ongoing conflict in its east regions. There are still right wing movements (the Right Sector) in the country who celebrate key anniversaries associated with the Galicia division and sport associated logos and beliefs from that period. Some of these groups were involved in the violence associated with the Maidan square demonstrations. However, amidst a fog of provocateurs from all sides, there is still a lack of clarity regarding “who did what to whom”. Unofficial militia battalions (the Azov Battalion is a good example) fighting in the east appear to have connections to right wing organisations and make unconvincing denials when pressed on less savoury ideologies.

So this has been a routine, straightforward and effective Russian propaganda angle. It might be relatively simple for independent analysts, academics and journalists to highlight the crude, clumsy and distorted nature of these attacks, but in the end, much of this sticks – and not just in the local area. I was discussing Ukraine and the Crimea with an intelligent and informed friend of mine in London last year to be asked “But why are we bothering about the Ukraine government? Aren’t they just a bunch of fascists?”.

To bring this up to date, the Ukrainian government has, in the last few days, issued a statement warning that a new Russian offensive inside Eastern Ukraine is imminent.  Nothing new in itself, but Secretary of the National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine, Olexander Turchynov, seems to be attempting to replay the Nazi slur straight back to the Russians. It is helpful to read the entire statement to get the context (my bold highlights the Waffen-SS references).

27 August 2015:

Oleksandr Turchynov: In Donbas we confront the military units of the regular army of the Russian Federation, formed by the model of “Waffen-SS”

During the summer of 2015 there were radical changes in the character of Russian engagement in military actions in the East of Ukraine. Now Armed Forces of Ukraine are confronted not by mixed Russian-terrorist groupings, as it was from the beginning of the occupation, but by structured military units of Russian regular army.

At the occupied territory of Donbas the military leadership of Russia has completed the creation of a powerful ground formation, based on two army corps, ready to conduct active offensive operations. Control and supplying of 1st and 2nd army corps are performed by the specially created 12th command of reserve of Southern District of Russia’s Armed Forces (headquarters located in town Novocherkassk, Rostov region of Russia). Key command and staff positions in these army corps are occupied by Russian permanent officers. Enlisted personnel of these corps consists up to 40% of residents of the occupied territory of Donetsk and Lugansk regions, as well as contract soldiers and mercenaries from Russia, who have gained combat experience during the hostilities in the East of Ukraine and in flash points of Russia. The authorized strength of these two army corps is up to 35 thousand men. In addition, at the occupied territory there is a military reserve consisting of 21 tactical groups of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation (15 battalion, 6 company groups), numbering more than 9 thousand people. On the eastern border of our country another 53 tactical groups of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation are concentrated (39 battalion, 14 company groups) numbering 50,5 thousand people.

The features of forming and functioning of the 1st and 2nd army corps indicate that the Russians for their creation have chosen the model, approbated by the leadership of Germany during World War II and known as the “Waffen SS”.

“Waffen SS” is the military units of “SS” which participated in the combat actions at the front during the World War II. Due to the limitation of their own mobilization resource the leadership of Germany has decided to enlist volunteers, who were citizens of occupied countries. In accordance with the official policy of that time exclusively German nationals could serve in the Wehrmacht (German Armed Forces).

There were no such restrictions for the “SS”, so as a part of it special “Waffen-divisions” were created, which consisted of foreign volunteers and were formed usually on ethnic or religious grounds. German permanent officers of “SS” served as commanders of these “Waffen-divisions” and volunteers from occupied countries were taken to serve as cannon fodder on positions of privates or other lowest military posts. Exactly this experience of forming military units for conducting hostilities in the East of Ukraine was added by the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Russia to its armory. We obtain fundamental data on generals and officers of the Russian army, who are included to the commanding level of Russia’s occupation forces. Materials concerning them are being transferred to the Office of Prosecutor General of Ukraine for launching criminal investigations. The command of all the grouping of Russian occupation forces is being carried out by Colonel-General Andrey Serdyukov, Chief of Staff – First Deputy to Commander of the Southern Military District (cover identification document on a surname Sedov).

In particular, the command of the 1st army corps before the beginning of August 2015 was carried out by Major-General of the Russian Army Alexey Zavizyon, seconded from the post of Chief of Staff of the 41st Army of Central Military District of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, who have used cover identification document on a surname Pilevin. The commander of the 2nd army corps is Major-General of Russian Army Evgeniy Nikiforov (cover identification document on a surname Morgun), seconded from the post of Deputy to Commander of 58th Army of Southern Military District of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation. A rotation was held here. Down to recent times this army corps was under command of Lieutenant-General Sergey Yudin, who headed the Staff of the 20th Army of Western Military District of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation. I would like to stress once again that we are confronted by fully functional military units of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.

At the occupied territories a large number of heavy armament and military equipment is concentrated, a staggered accumulation of large amounts of fuel and ammunition is being carried out, which are to ensure the conduct of active offensive operations and, according to the plan of Russian General Staff, will be supported by the intrusion of additional units of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation to the territory of Ukraine.

So the battle for control of history – and the playing with fire – continues. The statement here by Mr Turchynov looks crude and, where the Waffen-SS references are concerned, essentially irrelevant. It invites a predictable Russian propaganda reprise highlighting the role of Ukrainian forces in the SS. It is a distraction from any legitimate concerns the Ukrainian government has over Russian military activity inside its borders. There is no valid military or political point to be made, other than a blatant attempt to play the Russians at their own ugly and immature media game by throwing the term “Waffen-SS” out as many times as possible.

It is a poor decision. It doesn’t help anybody and certainly will not contribute to conflict resolution. No additional credibility with the West will be gained.  Better for all to demonstrate a willingness to set some the uglier periods of history to one side for the historians and rise above it.

2000 Russian combat dead fighting in Eastern Ukraine?

August 26, 2015

Summary: Russia financial data, accidentally released, seems to confirm extensive Russian military activity – including 2000 Russian military deaths – in Eastern Ukraine


Update as at 1 September.  There seems to be a certain amount of media debate over the original source and ultimate validity of the original report – no one able to independently confirm the stats.

A very interesting snippet from Forbes suggesting an accidental release by Russian authorities – rapidly deleted when the error was recognised – of Russian casualties fighting in Eastern Ukraine.

Web-archived material removed by Russian censors containing casualty figures.  “Compensation of military personnel taking part in military actions in Ukraine in 2014-2015.” In addition, the Russian government, in a decision about the monetary compensation of military personnel taking part in military action in eastern Ukraine, approved compensation for families of military personnel who were killed taking part in military action in Ukraine of three million rubles (about $50,000). For those who have become invalids during military action, the compensation is one and a half million rubles (about $25,000). A payment of 1,800 rubles is envisioned for contract “fighters” for every day of their presence in the conflict zone. In all, as of February 1, 2015, monetary compensation had been paid to more than 2,000 families of fallen soldiers and to 3,200 military personnel suffering heavy wounds and recognized as invalids.”

Sovietologists found many secrets of the USSR by digging into the Soviet press and technical and financial trade journals. That fallen and invalided military personnel are compensated must be reflected somewhere in budgets. As reported in Delovaya zhizn, compensation payments for those killed and invalided in Ukraine came to almost twenty million dollars

Russia officially denies any military involvement in Eastern Ukraine.  The rest of the world begs to differ.  But reported here the figures suggested over 2,000 soldiers killed and over 3,000 rendered “invalid”- presumably the loss of at least one limb or similarly major traumatic wound.  One can only speculate as to the number of wounded on top of this that do not qualify for invalid status.

Russia/Georgia: Border creep – more salami, thinner slices…

August 20, 2015

Summary: small scale Russian land grabs in Georgia are designed to go unnoticed.

Georiga wakes up a few hundred square metres smaller...

Georiga wakes up a few hundred square metres smaller…

Some analysts and journalists have picked up unauthorised realignments between the border of the Russia-controlled Georgian region of South Ossetia and Georgia. To Georgia’s detriment.

BBC, 10 August: Late on 10 July, Russian troops placed new demarcation signposts along the administrative boundary between the annexed territory of South Ossetia, which was removed from Georgia’s jurisdiction by force in the war of 2008, and Tbilisi-controlled territory.

Crucially, a further 1.5km into the Georgian territory was added overnight. The new “border” is now a de facto occupation line, just a mile away from a major highway linking Georgia’s eastern and western regions

Not only did this “land grab” disrupt the lives of villagers, whose households ended up overnight within the Russian-controlled territory, a kilometre-long section of the BP-operated Baku-Supsa oil pipeline also now lies outside of Tbilisi’s reach.

…and this:

Al Jazeera, 16 July “On July 16, Moscow-backed security forces moved the administrative boundary fence dividing the Russian occupied region of South Ossetia and the rest of Georgia – thereby placing more Georgian territory under Russian control.”

Georgia is still a frontline of sorts. although Russia’s “engagement” in Ukraine takes the lion’s share of the headlines.  Georgia is extremely keen to break out of the historic, and frequently bloody, grip Russia has had over it. Its government is seeking membership of the EU and NATO, to the extreme disquiet of Russia which would prefer to keep Georgia in its orbit. Russia and Georgia fought a brief war in 2008, at which point Russia recognised South Ossetia and Abkhazia, another region of Georgia, as independent states.

This looks to be another small-scale nibbling around the edges of someone else’s nation state, perhaps with an element of gas and oil pipeline politics thrown in. Russia is perfecting the idea of “salami-slice” tactics whereby an undeniably hostile act is timed carefully and so limited in scope such that, if it is noticed at all, it hardly seems worth the international community kicking up a fuss. It’s a micro-invasion.

Pipeline map Georgia

This is likely seen by Russia to be a successful approach that is difficult to challenge, particularly when the aim is to unsettle and destabilise rather than blatantly invade, which is much more troublesome and expensive. We should certainly expect more – but where? Perhaps we need to be more alert during world events that might distract international media and governments (a Greek economic crisis, international sporting event, ISIS/terrorism)…

Death of Mullar Omar

August 2, 2015

Summary: Reports of Mullah Omar’s death have been exaggerated before. But recent claims of his demise, including from Taliban sources, together with the announcement that second in command, Mullah Mansoor, has taken over seem more convincing this time. The Taliban seem to be struggling with the news. Confusion and factional fighting look likely.

It seems that the Taliban leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, is dead. Reports of his death have been greatly exaggerated before, over years. This has been due to combination of his need to remain in hiding, a general lack of information about him and malicious or misinformed rumour-mongering from a variety of sources. I wrote about the implications of his death here and here.

This time, multiple sources, including announcements from the Taliban website broadly considered to be the official voice of the Taliban, make it more plausible that Omar is dead. The details of his death (where, how, when and who broke the news first) remain largely – and tantalisingly – unanswered.

But a flurry of Taliban statements in the context of Omar’s death point strongly to surprise, confusion, uncertainty and inter-factional rivalry within the Taliban.

Within the space of a few days, the Taliban’s website has announced:

  • Omar’s death due to illness (with minimal detail)
  • the appointment of Mullah Mansoor as leader of the Taliban
  • the “clarification” of the loyalty of Mullah Zakir – the former leader of the military commission of the Taliban and generally seen as a rival to Mansoor for the leadership
  • the announcement that “hundreds of jihadi” commanders are endorsing Mansoor
  • that rumours that senior insurgent figurehead, Jalaluddin Haqqani, has died of illness are unfounded (although he was ill for a time)

and, just to definitively prove this latter statement,

  • a note from Jallaluddin Haqqani himself, urging unity and support for Mullah Mansoor

We should also note that the most recent Mullah Omar Eid statement, which was significant for its endorsement of talks and its multiple appeals for unity, has been taken down, suggesting embarrassment and questions over the date of Omar’s death. Afghan intelligence sources, amongst others, claim that Omar may have died in early 2013.

The Taliban are clearly struggling with their media line and their leadership succession. They have put peace talks on hold. The apparent need to denounce rumours of Haqqani death suggests over-sensitivity and over-reaction: they are clearly not learning many lessons about media management. I get the sense that many Taliban have been taken by surprise by the announcement and the speed with which Mansoor has become the leader. Small wonder there are so many pleas for unity flying around. Reports suggest that a faction that includes Mullah Omar’s son are unhappy with Mansoor’s appointment. A Pakistani paper reports that pressure is being put on Mansoor to step down and a new leader elected.

Mullah Omar more or less vanished in late 2001 or early 2002. He was an important spiritual figurehead for the Taliban – a rallying point amongst many factions – much more than he was an active battlefield commander. I suspect he may well have died months or years ago but it suited the Taliban to preserve the legend (and issue commands) in his name for as long as they could.

The indications of dis-unity and fragmentation are being demonstrated even across the Taliban’s own website. As ever, when confronted with difficult or fast-moving news, they fumble with their responses, even after many years of media experience. Denial, denouncement and deflection remain their preferred approach.

We need the dust to settle. I expect more confused announcements and rumour to swirl around for some weeks. An understanding of when Omar died and who chose to broadcast this information at this particular point in time might add to our understanding of what the Taliban are becoming. Did the Pakistanis put this out as a means of forcing the Taliban’s hand and pushing them further into the Pakistani-led talks?

But before Omar’s death is heralded as cause for hope, fragmentation and in-fighting amongst factions looks a real possibility. Some Taliban factions want to continue the fight. This, along with the growing rise of Islamic State factions within and around the region, points to ongoing (and more complex) fighting in Afghanistan.

Mullah Omar’s 2015 Eid-ul Fitr: Islam permits us face to face talks with the enemy

July 22, 2015

Summary: Mullah Omar’s Eid address gives clues as to the current pressures on his movement.  He calls for unity several times in several ways and reminds his organisation that according to Islam it is acceptable to talk face to face with your enemies.

Taliban flagA statement purporting to come from the Afghan Taliban’s leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, appeared on the Taliban website on 14th July sending greetings on the occasion of the Islamic ceremony Eid-ul Fitr. The personal greeting from Omar is a Taliban tradition although it has never been entirely certain whether the document genuinely comes from Omar, people close to Omar, a Taliban committee or even Pakistani intelligence. There is regular speculation that Omar may even be dead. Regardless of this uncertainty, the statement and the website upon which it is posted, is generally seen as the official voice of the Afghan Taliban.

The statement congratulates Taliban fighters for their fourteen-year resistance against international and Afghan government forces and urges continued effort and unity.

“Win over your nation with good behaviour”

The main themes addressed were:

  1. Jihad remains obligatory even though most Western forces have been replaced by Afghan soldiers – the struggle continues
  2. Talking with the enemy “Concurrently with armed Jihad” is a legitimate activity according to Islam
    Maintaining unity is important
  3. An Islamic Emirate (i.e. Taliban) administration would be transparent, professional and inclusive
  4. The Taliban want good relations with Iran and Pakistan but is not controlled or armed by either of them. Be careful of malicious rumours
  5. The Taliban do not oppose modern knowledge
  6. “…deal with your people gently, with love and good manners” – avoid civilian casualties and “win over your nation with good behaviour”
  7. Seek the defection of fellow Muslim Afghans rather than killing them
  8. Jihad is an obligation – send money and other support if you cannot fight
  9. Maintain unity and provide for the families of jihadi martyrs

The importance of maintaining unity is a recurrent theme in the statement. This likely reflects the movement’s current internal stress lines. They appear uncertain over how to navigate the controversial issues of talks. The emergence of rival jihadists, in the face of the media-savvy and wealthy Islamic State already seems to be causing defections amongst their more militant members. To compound this, the Taliban have difficulties in maintaining control of their own narrative in the face of rumours, misinformation and likely a very real confusion about what to do. Earlier this month, an editorial piece was posted on the official Taliban website. It criticised in very hostile tones Pakistani involvement in guiding the Taliban towards talks. Within 24 hours of its posting it was taken down.

The need to win hearts and minds by avoiding civilian casualties is another oft-repeated exhortation. This continues to jar with the Taliban’s standard tactics of employing suicide bombers and other improvised explosive devices.

But perhaps the most significant – and new – angle was statement that it was “a legitimate Islamic principle” for engaging in face to face talks, meetings and agreements. There was a reminder that the Taliban have established a political office (in Qatar) “for political affairs, entrusted with the responsibility of monitoring and conducting all political activities”.

Some of the media went a little too far with this. (“Taliban leader Mullah Omar hails peace talks to end Afghanistan war”).  But the Taliban do seem at least to be attempting to clear the way – at least within their own ranks – for some forms of dialogue. There seem now to be two or three centres of gravity for engaging with the Taliban (we still do not clearly know how much is genuine, what is being discussed and between whom):

  1. Qatar/Gulf States Taliban “Political Office”
  2. the Murree holiday resort/”Pakistani-led”
  3. Separately, the Taliban have been engaging in general talks in Norway

In the meantime, the fighting continues. If warring parties are starting to circle around the negotiating table with genuine plans – and I would still be highly cautious about this, given the interminable “talks about talks” saga – we may see the fighting intensify and diversify as parties scramble for tactical advantage.  A “hurting stalemate” between protagonists might helpfully push them towards credible talks. But there are many old and new parties that can influence this in a variety of different ways in accordance with a range of agendas. One outcome is that the Taliban fragment as rival factions fall out over talks. This could point to a messier and more unpleasant conflict.

The full text of the Eid statement is below:

Eid Felicitation Message of Amir-ul-Momineen, Mulla Mohammad Umar Mujahid
ago 5 days – 278 views
In the name of Allah, the most Gracious, the most Merciful.
الحمد لله رب العلمین و الصلوة والسلام علی سیدالأنبیاء والمرسلین محمد وعلی آله وأصحابه أجمعین وبعد
:قال الله تعالی
[أُذِنَ لِلَّذِينَ يُقَاتَلُونَ بِأَنَّهُمْ ظُلِمُوا وَإِنَّ اللهَ عَلَى نَصْرِهِمْ لَقَدِيرٌ ﴾ [الحج:39﴿
Translation: (Permission to take up arms is given to those against whom war is made, because they have been wronged and Allah, indeed, has power to help them.) (Al-Hajj – 39)
To the whole Muslim Umma, particularly to the Muslim and Mujahid Masses of Afghanistan!
السلام علیکم ورحمة الله وبرکاته
(May peace and blessings of Allah be upon you!)
I would like to felicitate you on this auspicious occasions of both Eid-ul-Fitr and the significant conquests in the field of Jihad along with my sincere best wishes. May Allah, the Almighty, accept all your worships, donations and virtuous deeds related with the holy month of Ramadan! Amin.
All of these conquests are the result of perpetual support of Allah Almighty followed by the untold sacrifices, endeavors and backing of the Afghan Mujahid people. I pray to Allah, the Almighty, to remunerate all of them for their services and sacrifices.
It is a moment of deep gratitude and great honor for me to share my feelings with you concerning the sanctified and blessed days of the Holy Religion of Islam. The Muslims congratulate one another in these days, pray for their well-being and express their sincerity, brotherhood and sympathy in an atmosphere fraught with religious fraternity.
I would like, by seizing this occasion, to elucidate some issues about the previous and present on-going Jihadi struggle of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

1. The invasion of Afghanistan by the occupying alliance headed by America was in reality an explicit brutal aggression, contradicting all humane principles, on an integral part of the Muslim Umma and subsequently, the initiation of Holy Jihad against this aggression became a binding individual obligation upon us. As Allah Almighty says:
[ وَقَاتِلُواْ فِي سَبِيلِ اللّهِ الَّذِينَ يُقَاتِلُونَكُمْ… ﴾ [البقرة:190 ﴿
Translation: (And fight in the way of Allah against those who fight against you, but do not transgress. Surely, Allah loves not the transgressors.) (Al-Baqarah – 190)
It was according to this religious obligation that more than fifteen hundred religious scholars of our country issued the decree of Holy Jihad to the Islamic Emirate which was subsequently approved by the righteous scholars around the world. In the light of this genuine religious decree, Jihad is as obligatory today as it was in the beginning of foreign occupation because our Muslim homeland Afghanistan is still under occupation and both its land and air space are controlled by the invaders. The only minor difference is that after suffering heavy casualties and financial losses, the foreign occupying forces have reduced their numbers and have confined themselves to heavily fortified bases, filling this void with some notorious figures of our society, mercenary forces trained by foreign intelligence agencies and some naive youngsters in the disguise of Afghan security forces who are financially, logistically and even directly supported by the very occupying forces when pressured by Mujahidin. It is therefore still obligatory upon us to continue our sacred Jihad to liberate our beloved homeland and restore an Islamic system.
It is true that large areas of the country are liberated by the Mujahidin but our Jihadi struggle will continue until the infidel occupation of our country has ended and a pure Islamic system is implemented.

2. Concurrently with armed Jihad, political endeavors and peaceful pathways for achieving these sacred goals is a legitimate Islamic principle and an integral part of Prophetic politics. As our holy leader, the beloved Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), was actively engaged in fighting the infidels in the fields of ‘Badr’ and ‘Khyber’, he simultaneously participated in agreements beneficial for Muslims, held meetings with envoys of infidels, sent messages and delegations to them and on various occasions even undertook the policy of face to face talks with warring infidel parties. If we look into our religious regulations, we can find that meetings and even peaceful interactions with the enemies is not prohibited but what is unlawful is to deviate from the lofty ideals of Islam and to violate religious decrees. Therefore the objective behind our political endeavors as well as contacts and interactions with countries of the world and our own Afghans is to bring an end to the occupation and to establish an independent Islamic system in our country. It is our legitimate right to utilize all legal pathways because being an organized and liable setup, we are responsible to our masses, we are an integral part of human society and rely upon one another. All Mujahidin and countrymen should be confident that in this process, I will unwaveringly defend our legal rights and viewpoint everywhere. We have established a ‘Political Office’ for political affairs, entrusted with the responsibility of monitoring and conducting all political activities.

3. We insist upon the unity of Jihadi front in Afghanistan because firstly, it is the command of Allah Almighty and secondly, the fruits of successful Jihad against the former Soviet Union were lost as an inevitable consequence of the multiplicity of factions.
Allah Almighty has said about the unity of Jihadi front:
( إِنَّ اللَّهَ يُحِبُّ الَّذِينَ يُقَاتِلُونَ فِي سَبِيلِهِ صَفّاً كَأَنَّهُم بُنيَانٌ مَّرْصُوصٌ) (4 الصف)
Translation: (Verily, Allah loves those who fight in His cause arrayed in solid ranks, as though they were a strong structure cemented with molten lead.) (As-Saff – 4)

On another occasion, the Holy Quran unequivocally inhibits from all contentions, differences and mutual disputes in the following explicit words:

( وَأَطِيعُوا اللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ وَلَا تَنَازَعُوا فَتَفْشَلُوا وَتَذْهَبَ رِيحُكُمْ ۖ وَاصْبِرُوا ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ مَعَ الصَّابِرِينَ) (46 الانفال)
Translation: (And obey Allah and His Messenger and dispute not with one another, lest you falter and your strength depart from you. And be steadfast; surely, Allah is with the steadfast.) (Al-Anfal – 46)

And our Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) says:
{لاَ يُلْدَغُ الْمُؤْمِنُ مِنْ جُحْرٍ وَاحِدٍ مَرَّتَيْنِ} {رواه البخاري}
Translation: (A believer is not stung twice from the same hole.) Narrated by Bukhari.
Since maintaining the unity of Jihadi front in our country is a religious obligation, we have therefore directed all our Mujahidin to preserve their unity and forcefully prevent all those elements who attempt to create differences, damage this Jihadi front or try to disperse the Mujahidin.

4. Our Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) has said:
الْمُسْلِمُ أَخُو الْمُسْلِمِ لَا يَظْلِمُهُ وَلَا يَخْذُلُهُ وَلَا يَحْقِرُهُ التَّقْوَى هَاهُنَا” وَيُشِيرُ إِلَى صَدْرِهِ ثَلَاثَ مَرَّاتٍ، “بِحَسْبِ امْرِئٍ مِن الشَّرِّ أَنْ يَحْقِرَ أَخَاهُ الْمُسْلِمَ كُلُّ الْمُسْلِمِ عَلَى الْمُسْلِمِ حَرَامٌ دَمُهُ وَمَالُهُ وَعِرْضُهُ ) رواه مسلم و احمد
Translation: (Every Muslim is the brother of another Muslim. He should neither oppress him, nor let him down, nor insult him. Piety is here, while pointing to his chest thrice. It is enough for a man’s mischief to look down upon his Muslim brother. The blood, property and honor of every Muslim is forbidden for another Muslim.) Narrated by Muslim and Ahmad.
In view of the above saying of our Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) and being a member of the Muslim society, we look upon every Muslim as our brother and we formally recognize the legitimate rights of all Afghans including minorities as our religious duty.

The formation of Islamic Emirate comprises of virtuous and erudite people from all areas and nations of our country, learning a lot from the experiences of previous 36 years especially from the responsibilities borne over the past twenty years hence no one should fear about what will happen if the Islamic Emirate comes to power. I assure you that the upcoming changes will in no way resemble the situation following the collapse of the communist regime when everything turned upside down. There are no such disagreements inside the Jihadi ranks as were in the past. This time every legal development around the country will be preserved, national assets and the achievements of private sector will be maintained, the dignity of all individuals and communities of the country will be honored, an accountable, transparent, professional and inclusive Afghan administration will be setup to meet both the worldly and religious needs of the Afghan masses. We have always tried, in light of Islamic principles and national interests, to maintain cordial and reciprocal relations with all neighboring, regional and world countries so that Afghanistan is secured both from external malice as well as internal differences.

5. Some circles accuse Mujahidin of being agents of Pakistan and Iran. This is an utterly unjust verdict because neither our past history nor the present prevailing circumstances attest to this statement and the forthcoming history will also be a witness against these false accusations, Insha-Allah (God-willing).
Nevertheless, it is a fact that we have sought cordial relations not only with Pakistan and Iran but also all other neighboring countries. Just like towards the people of Pakistan and Iran, we have been the well-wishers of all masses of all neighboring, regional and world countries and we are determined to pursue this wise policy.
We call upon all people with intellect not to be deceived by the baseless propaganda of the enemy intelligence. Do not attribute you’re extraordinary achievements to others. The vast areas spreading from Badakhshan to Kandahar, from Faryab to Paktia and from Herat to Nangarhar, which almost covers the entire country cannot be liberated with foreign support. If foreign aid were so effective then it would have treated the wounds of the Kabul administration which enjoys the unconstrained support of fifty countries. They freely get weapons and manpower from abroad, even their leaders are brought up and trained by the foreigners. But none of these provisions stabilized them rather they are losing ground on a daily basis. Therefore if we were not supported by Allah Almighty as well as our pious masses and Jihadi spirit, how could it be possible for us to have sustained this lopsided war for fourteen years against major world military powers with the insignificant and secret support of either one or two neighboring countries? Without a doubt, no sane mind would ever accept this nonsense.
Therefore our Muslim brothers, near and far, should not be victimized by the enemy propaganda because the enemy is not only devious but also shrewd and well-equipped, able to convey and spread rumors and propaganda against Muslims and Islamic movements to the world masses. Hence all Muslims should remain vigilant and discerning equipped with faith and spiritual perspicacity.

6. Some people, without having any sound proof, think that the Islamic Emirate is against all new developments, modern sciences and resources. This despite the overall expenditure on schools and higher educational institutions being higher than the traditional religious madrassas during the reign of the Islamic Emirate. Twenty percent of the budget was allocated for education and training. Contemporary studies are recommended by our religious scholars as they are obligatory according to Islamic teachings. Allah Almighty says in His Holy Book:
(وَأَعِدُّوا لَهُمْ مَا اسْتَطَعْتُمْ مِنْ قُوَّةٍ وَمِنْ رِبَاطِ الْخَيْلِ تُرْهِبُونَ بِهِ عَدُوَّ اللَّهِ وَعَدُوَّكُمْ… )(الانفال 60)
Translation: (And make ready against them all you can of power, including steeds of war, whereby you may frighten the enemy of Allah and your enemy…) (Al-Anfal – 60)
According to the above blessed verse which stresses upon every possible preparation against the enemy and since Jihad is an indispensable obligation for the Muslims today thus modern resources to combat the enemy can neither be had nor utilized without the prior knowledge of modern sciences and new experiences. Similarly treatment of injured Mujahidin and health-care of Muslim masses, freeing ourselves from enemy dependence in technical, industrial, agricultural and various other walks of life as well as properly serving the Muslims and self-sufficiency of Islamic society needs our excellence in modern knowledge. It is a well-established rule of Islamic jurisprudence that the requisite of an obligation is obligatory.
Therefore the Islamic Emirate realizes the value and importance of modern sciences and sources in the light of our Holy Sharia law. The proof is that Mujahidin are facilitating both religious and modern studies for the young generation of our beloved homeland in all the areas under their control.

7. I would like to remind all the Mujahidin that if they abide by two things then eventual victory will be theirs. First, they should aim for Allah’s pleasure in all their deeds. They should endure their allegiance with their creed, country, the Islamic Emirate and their leaders as guided by our Holy Book:
(يَاأَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا إِن تَنصُرُواْ اللَّهَ یَنصُرْکمْ وَ یُثَبِّتْ أَقْدَامَکمْ.) (محمد 7)
Translation: (O ye who believe! if you help the cause of Allah, He will help you and will make your foothold firm.) (Muhammad – 7)
Secondly, our Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) says:
( لَيْسَ مِنَّا مَنْ لَمْ يَرْحَمْ صَغِيرَنَا وَلم يُوَقِّرْ كَبِيرَنَا) (ترمذي)
Translation: (Those who do not have mercy on youngsters and not respectful to elders are not from us.) Narrated by Tirmidhi
So deal with your people gently, with love and good manners. Treat their elders as your own parents and their youngsters as your own brothers and children. The protection of lives and properties of ordinary people is your Islamic and human responsibility. Particularly in your military planning, take all possible measures to avoid civilian losses and casualties. If you glance over history, you will vividly see that the one who has betrayed the sacred religion of Allah or has looked down upon this pious Mujahid nation or ignored good ethics has failed at succeeding here. The Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) says:
( أکمل المؤمنين إيماناً أحسنهم خلقاً ) (رواه ابوداود)
Translation: (The most perfect amongst the pious people is the one whose behavior is sublime.) Narrated by Abu Daud
So win over your nation with good behavior.

8. O Mujahidin! As Allah Almighty has flung open the doors of victories to you, try your best to invite and guide the opponents to the right path and provide them with secured and honorable living conditions. Instead of killing them, it is better to reform (guide) them as our community will inevitably suffer due to their widows and orphans. The people who control their anger and pardon are held in high esteem by Allah Almighty as He says:
(وَالْكَاظِمِينَ الْغَيْظَ وَالْعَافِينَ عَنِ النَّاسِ ۗ وَاللَّهُ يُحِبُّ الْمُحْسِنِينَ) (آل عمران (134)
Translation: (And those who suppress anger, and pardon men; and Allah loves those who do good.) (Al-Imran – 134)

9. Muslims of the whole world and specially the pious masses of Afghanistan are requested to increase their physical and financial support to the Mujahidin amidst the current triumphant process as you constantly extended it over the past fourteen years. You should remember that Jihad is an individual obligation upon every single Muslim. If one cannot participate in the Jihadi fronts physically, he can discharge his duty by extending financial or political or cultural support to the Mujahidin. Our Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) says:
(مَنْ جَهَّزَ غَازِياً فِي سَبِيلِ الله فَقَدْ غَزَا، وَمَنْ خَلَفَ غَازِياً فِي سَبِيلِ الله بِخَيْرٍ فَقَدْ غَزَا) (متفق علیه)
Translation: (Whosoever equipped a fighter in the path of Allah, and the one who looked after a fighter’s family behind, verily he participated in Jihad.) Agreed Upon
10. To end, I request all the leaders and masses of the Muslim world to maintain unity and fraternity among themselves and not allow internal differences to weaken their ranks. The policy of tolerance, patience, acumen and strict abidance by Islamic Sharia should be adopted. I would like to remind all the well-off sympathizing brothers to extend their complete support to the bereaved families of the martyrs, prisoners, disabled, poor and orphans of frontline Mujahidin during these happy days of Eid-ul-Fitr. They should not be left alone and must be encouraged because it is the source of success and prosperity in this world as well the world hereafter. Wish good for others as you seek it for yourselves as the Holy Quran says:
(وَافْعَلُوا الْخَيْرَ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُفْلِحُونَ) (الحج – 77)
Translation: (And do good deeds that you may prosper.) (Al-Hajj – 77)

I once again congratulate all of you on this happy occasion of Eid-ul-Fitr and pray to Allah Almighty that all your worship and services are rewarded.


Servant of Islam
Mulla Mohammad Umar Mujahid

%d bloggers like this: