In a message celebrating the end Ramadan, Taliban emir Mullah Omar crows about the jihadists’ recent gains in Afghanistan, says the exchange of the Taliban’s five top leaders once held at Guantanamo for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was a “spectacular achievement,” and speaks of the Taliban’s plans for governing Afghanistan.
The “military situation is in favor of [the] mujahideen,” Omar claims, because the “blanket of invasion has rolled back from vast areas.” The mujahideen “are now more well-organized, active and unified in contrast with the past,” Omar adds, and “vital centers of the enemy have come under successful attacks in cities.”
Omar’s statement is propaganda on behalf of the Taliban, so he can be expected to portray his organization’s efforts in the most favorable light. Still, according to independent press reports, Taliban-led forces have been advancing in recent weeks.
Omar’s message was released on July 25. The New York Times reported the following day, on July 26, that the Taliban have been “scoring early gains in several strategic areas near the capital this summer, inflicting heavy casualties and casting new doubt on the ability of Afghan forces to contain the insurgency as the United States moves to complete its withdrawal of combat troops, according to Afghan officials and local elders.” The Taliban are not just succeeding in their “traditional strongholds” in the south, the Times reported, but have also gained territory close to the capital of Kabul.
In a separate article published on July 27, the Times followed up with an account of the Taliban’s resurgence in the southern province of Kandahar. A surge of American forces largely succeeded in forcing the Taliban out of the province in 2010, but a “sudden Taliban offensive … has led to some of the heaviest protracted fighting there in years.”
Discusses Taliban’s plans for governing Afghanistan
Much of Omar’s message focuses on the Taliban’s governance efforts in Afghanistan. The Taliban emir clearly expects his forces to control even more territory in the near future. Thus, he informs his followers that the resurrection of his Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, as it calls itself, is at hand.
“Writ and administration of the Islamic Emirate [have] become stronger comparatively,” Omar claims. The Taliban leader lists a number of areas where he sees progress: “Parallel to the battle ground, activities of the Islamic Emirate are forging ahead with initiatives in other sectors as well. Great services have been rendered in sectors of education, economy, adjudication and justice, call and guidance, cultural activities, martyrs, the handicapped, coordination and management of NGOs, prisoner’s affairs and civilian casualties.”
Omar portrays the future Afghanistan, under Taliban rule, as a “prosperous” place that fosters economic development for its people. He even says the Taliban embrace scientific advancements and education for all men and women. (The catch is that this education must be consistent with the religious “framework of sharia,” as defined by the Taliban, which leads to a very different notion of education than that employed in the West. The international community has repeatedly denounced the Taliban for treating women poorly and failing to provide them with a basic education.)
Omar encourages the Taliban’s enemies to give up, and says that the mujahideen should welcome defectors from the Afghan government with open arms. “I call on all soldiers, police and generally” other members of the Taliban’s opposition “not to destroy yourselves for the goals of the invaders and against your own people,” Omar says. “Come and wage jihad alongside with your own people and together with the mujahideen of the Islamic Emirate against the common enemy in order to gain the bliss of the two worlds.”
“As per the policy of the Islamic Emirate,” Omar continues, the mujahideen “should have a conduct of sympathy with those who leave ranks of the enemy. Give them (a warm) welcome.”
The war for “hearts and minds”
Even though Omar’s message projects a certain confidence about the future, he sounds a note of caution when it comes to civilian casualties, which are a strategic liability for the Taliban in their quest to win the support of more Afghans. The United Nations and Coalition forces have effectively highlighted the Taliban’s role in causing most of the civilian casualties in the ongoing war.
“Every caution should be taken to protect life and property of the public during [jihadist] operations, so that, God forbid, someone is harmed,” Omar says. And the Taliban’s “Department of Prevention of Civilian Casualties should seriously pay attention to its task to prevent civilian casualties.”
This is easier said then done, as the Taliban still kills civilians on a regular basis. The UN reported earlier this month that there were approximately 4,853 civilian casualties in Afghanistan in the first six months of 2014. The report attributed 74 percent of these casualties to anti-government elements, including the Taliban. The UN said that the “onus” was on the Taliban and other anti-government forces to reduce civilian casualties.
With an eye towards winning the support of the population, Omar implores his fighters to compete for the support of the Afghans. “It is your religious and national duty to try for the prosperity of the people and win their hearts and minds,” Omar says. “Shun arrogance, vanity.” Omar warns against using force in a manner that is inconsistent with the Taliban’s radical form of sharia law.
Discusses international events, perceptions of Taliban’s legitimacy
Although most of Omar’s statement is focused on Afghanistan, he addresses the international community in several spots.
He does not address the Islamic State’s caliphate announcement, which was made in late June, or al Qaeda’s response. The announcement, which portrays Abu Bakr al Baghdadi as the rightful new caliph, is an attempt to usurp the power of all of other jihadist groups, including the Taliban. Al Qaeda, which is at odds with the Islamic State, has responded by renewing its oath of allegiance to Omar and implying that he is a legitimate caliph. Omar is silent on this issue, but he does address others.
The Taliban emir blames Israel alone for the civilian casualties in Gaza and calls on the “Islamic world” to take “[p]ractical and swift steps … to prevent these gruesome brutalities.”
Omar claims that his Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has gained legitimacy in much of the world’s eyes thanks to the work of the Taliban’s political office in Qatar. Omar says the political office “performs its task under our instructions.” And, he claims, “Many entities that used to oppose us now have come around to accept the Islamic Emirate as a reality.”
Omar goes to praise the political office for negotiating the exchange of the five top Taliban commanders formerly held at Guantanamo for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, saying it “is a spectacular achievement.”
Naturally, however, Omar’s principal concern is the future of Afghanistan. “We believe the war in Afghanistan will come to an end when all foreign invaders pull out of Afghanistan and a holy Islamic and independent regime prevails here,” Omar says. The “[p]resence of limited number of troops under whatever title it may be will mean continuation of occupation and the war. This is because none can tolerate invading forces in one’s soil.”
In other words, the Taliban’s war for Afghanistan will come to an end when they have won, and the international community has gone home.