The New York Times reports: If the Taliban’s reclusive leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, were ever to assert himself more publicly, this would have been the year to do it.
In a season of immense upheaval in the jihadist world, the Taliban gained ground in new Afghan offensives, endured a bloody internal power struggle and had to contend with the rise of the Islamic State militant group as an ideological rival. Through it all, Mullah Omar has remained silent.
Further, though he has stayed completely out of the public eye since he fled American airstrikes in late 2001, his reclusiveness became even more pronounced in the past year: Now, all but two of the Taliban’s leaders who had direct access to Mullah Omar have been cut off, according to senior Taliban figures and Afghan and Western officials, all of whom say a significant power shift is underway.
“I have not seen Mullah Omar in a very long time,” Maulvi Najibullah, a senior Taliban military commander, said in a telephone interview from Peshawar, in northern Pakistan.
The invisibility of Mullah Omar has been accentuated by the visible role of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State, reinforcing the Taliban’s increasingly secondary role in the world of Islamist militants, Afghan and Western officials said.
So, is the influence of the elusive mullah waning? [Continue reading…]