Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Amir al Mumineen (“the commander of the faithful”) of the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban.
The battle for hearts and minds in Afghanistan has taken a new turn in the past two months. The Taliban’s supreme leader, Mullah Omar, has ordered his forces to kill or capture any civilians, including Afghan women, who cooperate with Coalition forces. Omar’s latest directive contradicts his marching orders from just one year ago, when he told his Taliban commanders to refrain from harming civilians working with the Coalition.
Omar reportedly issued his latest order in June. NATO announced that it had recovered a copy of the directive in July. Since then, Afghan press outlets have published a translation of Omar’s five-point order.
The Long War Journal has received a translation of Omar’s order, as it appeared in the Afghan press, from US intelligence sources. Senior US intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal say the order is most likely genuine.
According to the translation, Mullah Omar’s five-point directive reads:
1. Fight coalition forces to the death without withdrawing or surrendering; attempt to capture coalition forces whenever possible.
2. Capture and kill any Afghan who is supporting and/or working for coalition forces or the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.
3. Capture and kill any Afghan women who are helping or providing information to coalition forces.
4. Recruit anyone that has access to coalition force bases and have the ability to collect detailed information about coalition forces.
5. Purchase or obtain more heavy weapons such as rocket-propelled grenades, machine guns and anti-aircraft machine guns.
Points 2 and 3 are a dramatic about-face for the Taliban leader. In the summer of 2009, Omar issued a Code of Conduct for Taliban forces that explicitly commanded his shadow governors and other Taliban leaders to do the opposite.
“Governors, district chiefs and line commanders and every member of the Mujahideen must do their best to avoid civilian deaths, civilian injuries and damage to civilian property. Great care must be taken,” the Taliban’s Code of Conduct reads, according to a translation available on al Jazeera’s web site.
Coalition military officials have been quick to cite Mullah Omar’s most recent order, highlighting its impact on the Afghan people. On Tuesday, ISAF issued a press release describing a Taliban attack in which six Afghan civilians were killed, two more were wounded, and an Afghan government official was kidnapped in the Siahgird district of Parwan province.
“These insurgents have chosen to follow Mullah Omar’s recent guidance of attempting to capture or kill innocent civilians who are working for the coalition or government,” Col. Rafael Torres, ISAF Joint Command’s Combined Joint Operations Center director, is quoted as saying in the press release. “Meanwhile, Omar is directing these attacks from the relative safety of his hiding place in Pakistan.”
A July 19 news release on the Defense Department’s web site includes a summary of Mullah Omar’s order that is nearly identical to the language cited above. In that release, ISAF spokesperson Brig. Gen. Josef Blotz references Mullah Omar’s five-point directive in the context of another attack on Afghan civilians, pointing out that the 2009 Code of Conduct is apparently no longer binding.
“This [order] proves the Taliban are willing to ignore their own Code of Conduct when they sense they are losing influence and control, as today’s attack [July 18] against several Afghan civilians [who] were killed and injured by a suicide attack in a residential area in Kabul today demonstrates,” Blotz explained.
The Taliban’s use of suicide bombers against civilian targets, highlighted in the July 19 DOD release, is another reversal in Taliban policy. The Taliban’s 2009 Code of Conduct called for limiting the use of suicide bombers in attacks against civilians. “A brave son of Islam should not be used for lower and useless targets. The utmost effort should be made to avoid civilian casualties,” the document reads.
Up until Mullah Omar’s June directive, it was widely thought that the Taliban would try to limit civilian casualties in order to compete with ISAF’s counterinsurgency strategy. American-led forces in Afghanistan treat the Afghan populace as the center of gravity and are trying to win their support by limiting civilian casualties and extending good governance.
The Taliban, as evidenced by its 2009 Code of Conduct, initially adopted a similar strategy. But Mullah Omar has now abandoned that effort in favor a more violent course. It remains to be seen whether Omar and the Taliban stick to the new strategy, or revert back to a more civilian-friendly approach.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal. Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD’s Long War Journal.