Saturday, October 10, 2009

Mullah Omar

Mullah Omar is the leader of the Taliban in Afghanistan. I think I first heard his name in 2001 when we first invaded, and I've periodically heard mention of him since. Given the significance of the Taliban, though, Omar does not receive nearly as much US media attention as does Osama bin Laden.

In today's Times, Scott Shane reports on Omar (here). Shane quotes Bruce Riedel, a former CIA official involved with the Obama Administration's initial review of Afghanistan policy, on Omar's continuing influence:
"He’s a semiliterate individual who has met with no more than a handful of non-Muslims in his entire life. And he’s staged one of the most remarkable military comebacks in modern history."
According to Shane, we know very little about Omar. For example:
  • When was he born? His year of birth is assumed to be anywhere between 1950 and 1962.
  • Where does he live? The US actually doesn't even know if he's based in Pakistan or Afghanistan.
  • Is he "in the dark" about international affairs, or is he actually quite savy? Shane says that analysts differ in their opinions of Omar's sophistication.
Shane reports that the Taliban are starting to engage more often in suicide bombings and the use of IED's. He also says that Omar's primary deputy -- Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar -- is also very important in administering the Taliban's shadow government.

319. The big question for Obama, at the moment, is the question posed by Shane in his story: is it necessary to defeat the Taliban in order to accomplish US goals in Afghanistan? Or is combatting the Taliban ancillary to the primary goal, which is to stimy al Qaeda?

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