In late 2001, Mullah Muhammad Omar’s prospects seemed utterly bleak. The ill-educated, one-eyed leader of the Taliban had fled on a motorbike after his fighters were swiftly routed by the Americans invading Afghanistan.
Much of the world celebrated his ouster, and Afghans cheered the return of girls’ education, music and ordinary pleasures outlawed by the grim fundamentalist government.
Eight years later, Mullah Omar leads an insurgency that has gained steady ground in much of Afghanistan against much better equipped American and NATO forces. Far from a historical footnote, he represents a vexing security challenge for the Obama administration, one that has consumed the president’s advisers, divided Democrats and left many Americans frustrated.
“This is an amazing story,” said Bruce Riedel, a former Central Intelligence Agency officer who coordinated the Obama administration’s initial review of Afghanistan policy in the spring. “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.” [continued…]