Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Amir al Mumineen (“the commander of the faithful”) of the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban.
Three days ago, Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar issued a rare online statement marking the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr. Much of his rhetoric in the release was typical: foreign forces must withdraw from Afghanistan completely, the Taliban will fight them to the bitter end, the current government is made up of quislings, and upcoming elections are a “deceiving drama” and “a waste of time.” But a few items stand out. First:
I urge all Afghans who perform duties in the ranks of the enemy to turn barrels of their guns against the infidel invaders and their allies instead of martyring their Muslim Afghans. We have always given a hero welcome to these young fighters and, on the basis of fraternity, we welcome everyone who leaves the rank of the enemy and comes over to his Mujahid people.
This is by no means the first Taliban reference to insider (‘green-on-blue’) attacks conducted by Afghan security personnel on ISAF forces, but it’s interesting coming from Omar. Last year, US military leaders initially speculated that cultural tensions were the primary motivation for these attacks and that only about 10 percent were caused by Taliban infiltration of the Afghan security forces. But this number was later revised upward to 25 percent in an August 2012 statement by then-ISAF commander General John Allen, and last month’s DoD report to Congress assessed that “roughly half of the (insider) attacks in 2012 involved some level of insurgent links, with a third of those only making contact with insurgents after their attack.”
It’s impossible to precisely gauge the extent to which Omar’s reference or other Taliban statements reflect a concerted strategy or simply capitalize on a trend, but the pace of attacks spiked in 2011, closely following the Obama administration’s announcement of a US surge capped by a 2014 withdrawal. (See The Long War Journal’s special report: Green-on-blue attacks in Afghanistan: the data.)
Also relevant in Omar’s statement are his attempts to put a kinder, gentler face on the notoriously draconian Taliban. First, he emphasized “modern education”:
Instead of reliance on foreign assistance and skills, the Afghans should qualify themselves and serve their country by utilizing their own resources. In the same sense, in order to protect ourselves from scarcity and hardships, our young generations should arm themselves with religious and modern educations because modern education is a fundamental need of every society in the present time.
There is no stipulation as to whether a “modern education” permits girls to attend school, of course. Omar also pledged a new era of international cooperation …
As to the foreign policy, our fundamental principle according to our unchanging policy is that we do not intend to harm anyone, nor we allow anyone to harm others from our soil. Similarly, we can’t tolerate any harm from others. We will maintain good relations with all those who respect Afghanistan as an independent Islamic country and their relations and interactions are not domineering and colonial, whether they are the world powers or the neighbors or any other country of the world. It is to be said that we have mentioned this point in our previous messages and have conveyed to all people of the world through the Political Office.
… and welcomed humanitarian groups:
About the work of international humanitarian organizations, I would like to say that every humanitarian organization which keeps away from political and espionage motives and which is not established by the invaders for the purpose of collecting intelligence or inviting people to non-Islamic ways, it can carry out its selfless activities in areas under our control on the basis of our conditions and policy and in coordination with the relevant commissions, whether they are working in the health sector or in the refugees or in food supply sectors or any other sector.
This statement appears to be a pointed reflection of the Taliban’s apparent change of heart about killing vaccination workers because of suspicions they are conducting a mass-sterilization plot. In addition, he opined on civilian casualties:
I order the Mujahideen to block the way of activities of these tyrants if possible and increase efforts for prevention of civilian casualties and help the newly- founded office of the Islamic Emirate which has been established to prevent civilian casualties and present on ground facts to our people and the public of the world.
It is worth mentioning that the enemy has been spreading misinformation about civilian casualties. Some entities, who claim to be neutral, publish reports based on these distorted reports. In fact, civilian casualties are caused by the enemy itself. Occasionally, when a Mujahid is found being careless as regards the prevention of the civilians casualties, he must be referred to the leadership after identification for handing over to the judicial courts.
Omar is referencing UN reports on civilian casualties; the latest UN report attributes 74 percent of civilian casualties in the first half of this year to Afghan insurgents. His order that the Taliban should prevent civilian casualties also contradicts his own previous explicit directives to kill any civilians suspected of being collaborators or informants.
Finally, Omar pledged that the Taliban is open to being part of an “Afghan-inclusive” post-ISAF government:
We have already said that the Islamic Emirate does not think of monopolizing power. Rather we believe in reaching understanding with the Afghans regarding an Afghan-inclusive government based on Islamic principles.
The idea of an “Afghan-inclusive government” in which the Taliban “does not think of monopolizing power” defies history, the group’s consistent demands that the Afghan government be replaced with the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, and common sense.
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