Mullah Omar Still Dead, Says Taliban

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.
New boss and old boss. (Rahmat Gul / AP)

The group has acknowledged for the first time that it concealed for two years the death of its former leader because it was in the “final year” of its battle against U.S.-led forces.

The Taliban’s admission came in a detailed biography the group of its new leader, Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansoor.

News of Mullah Muhammad Omar’s death was leaked last month, and the Taliban’s statement late Sunday might constitute the first time the group has publicly acknowledged the rationale for why it kept the death secret. Here’s more from the group’s website:

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, late Amir-ul-Momineen Mullah Mohammad Umar Mujahid (may his soul rest in peace) and keep this secret limited to the very few colleagues who were already informed of this incorrigible loss. 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.

It was for these Jihadi Masaleh (interests/considerations) that this depressing news was concealed in an extraordinary way up until 30th July 2015.

The group is referring to the December 2014 deadline for NATO operations in the country.

As my colleague David noted in July,  it wasn’t the first time Omar had been reported dead:

Omar’s practical absence may be a source of frustration for Taliban fighters and commanders, but the group has also fiercely denied every report that he is dead.Now, as intelligence agencies and reporters scramble to nail down the latest claim, the question to ponder is whether it really matters if Mullah Omar is dead.

Also writing on the death was the columnist David Rohde, who pointed out that “reports … that reclusive Taliban leader Mullah Omar had died will be rightly hailed by some as the demise of an American nemesis. But the death of the one-eyed Afghan commander may also scuttle the most promising peace talks in Afghanistan in a decade.”

The Taliban’s announcement might be an effort to build support for the group’s new leader. As Rohde said:

But the emergence of actual negotiations has placed enormous strain on the Taliban and widened a dangerous rift inside the group. In the past few weeks, two different militant groups once allied with the Taliban have issued statements declaring Omar is dead. Their goal was to call into question the authority of his deputy, Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansoor, to lead the group. Omar’s 26-year-old son, Yaqoob, and other hardliners oppose the peace talks, according to a recent story by a veteran Pakistani journalist with close ties to the Taliban. The hardliners opposed Mansoor’s decision to send a delegation to direct peace talks on July 7. Mansoor later issued a statement purported to be from Omar that supported the talks. On Thursday, one Taliban spokesman said the group would no longer participate in the negotiations.

The worrying trend is that this dispute reflects deep tribal divisions within the Taliban that could divide the entire movement. Ideological rifts exist as well. Some hardline factions that have declared allegiance to the Islamic State now often engage in gun battles with traditional Taliban groups.