Leadership: Mullah Omar Regrets


November 10, 2011: Mullah Omar, the head of the Afghan Taliban for the last fifteen years, recently sent a message to his armed followers. He warned them to avoid civilian casualties and maintain good relations with civilians. Omar also urged his men to warn civilians to stay away from foreign troops, in order to reduce the number of civilians killed by roadside bombs and ambushes. Most of those killed by roadside bombs are civilians. Civilians killed by the Taliban have been a growing problem. More Afghans are tired of the seemingly endless Taliban violence, and are becoming more hostile to the Islamic radicals. Many Taliban field commanders have responded to less civilian cooperation by applying terror, and using civilians as human shields. Mullah Omar wants both practices to stop.

Omar has been asking his troops to treat civilians better for the last six years. These pleas have largely been ignored. Turns out that Omar does not run the Afghan Taliban as much as he presides over it. There is a new generation of younger, more vicious Taliban leaders in the field (their predecessors had largely been killed off.) So there was a lot more terror, especially in the last year. That meant a lot more threats, kidnappings and assassinations. Taliban death squads are targeting government and tribal officials who oppose them. For the first six months of this year, civilian deaths were up 15 percent, although 80 percent of civilian deaths were caused by the Taliban. This gives the Taliban a very bad reputation among Afghans.

Due to the number of officials owned by the drug gangs and the Taliban, every civilian death caused by foreign troops (less than 15 percent are) gets a lot more publicity than deaths (usually deliberate, while it's usually accidental for foreign troops) caused by the Taliban. The best way to terrorize the civilians is to threaten even wives and kids. Women and children first, as it were, is the road to victory.

Attacking foreign troops is still a goal, but the Taliban have done the math and discovered that it's a lot cheaper to terrorize civilians. This makes it more difficult for the foreign troops to get information (about Taliban operations) from civilians. Going after police and army commanders can cripple the intelligence networks. By hurting the enemy intelligence networks, the Taliban are more likely to avoid attack. In the last year, the increased number of raids and patrols by NATO forces has done a lot of damage to the Taliban and drug gangs anyway, and the Taliban are responding as they best know how; with more violence against those least able to defend themselves.

Suicide attacks have not increased this year, but the targets are different. Thus failed attacks against foreign troops have been replaced by successful ones against government officials. These efforts are made easier by corruption, as Afghan security personnel can be bribed. This is why the most senior Afghan officials employ foreigners for their personal security. 

The Taliban suicide bomber operations are fueled largely by brainwashed students of Pakistani religious schools and Afghans convinced, deceived or coerced into carrying out an attack. In several cases, the Taliban have used young children (by giving them a backpack bomb with a remote controlled detonator). The problem is that suicide bombers, at least competent ones, are increasingly hard to find. Even kidnapping (taking one or more members of a family to coerce another to carry out a suicide bomb attack) works less and less. The Iraqi Islamic terrorists went through the same pattern, and eventually ran out of suicide bombers. Actually, the quality of available bombers declined to the point where few effective attacks could be carried out.

Mullah Omar has always been uneasy with the suicide bomb tactics, and it took several years of pressure to get him behind it. Now, Omar seems to have some regrets.


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