Fault Lines reports from a Taliban stronghold just an hour outside Kabul, where armed fighters openly patrol streets.
The Afghan Taliban have published a descriptive biography of Mullah Omar, their “charismatic” supreme leader, in a move apparently aimed at countering the influence of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group within its ranks.
The biography, posted just on Sunday on the Taliban’s main website to commemorate Omar’s 19th year as supreme leader, described him as being actively involved in “jihadi activities”, dispelling speculation that he had died.
The Taliban have reportedly seen defections to the ISIL in recent months, with some rebels expressing their disaffection with the one-eyed warrior-cleric who has not been seen since the 2001 US-led invasion of Afghanistan.
Despite being “regularly tracked by the enemy, no major change and disruption has been observed in the routine works of [Omar] in… organising the jihadi activities as the leader of the Islamic Emirate,” the biography said.
“He keenly follows and inspects the… activities against the brutal infidel foreign invaders.”
Lionising the “charismatic personality”, the biography also contained several anecdotes of battlefield valour and described the RPG-7 grenade launcher as Omar’s “preferred weapon of choice”.
The withdrawn, remote figure has not made a public appearance since the 2001 invasion, and has hardly ever been photographed.
The US State Department – which has a $10m bounty on Omar’s head – only describes him as a tall male with a shrapnel wound to the right eye.
The Taliban’s surprise move to release his richly-detailed biography, even describing his personal and family life, took security analysts by surprise.
“The Taliban have posted Omar’s biography for several strategic reasons – the most important of which is to counter Daesh influence in their ranks,” said Ahmad Sayedi, an expert on the Taliban, alluding to the Arabic abbreviation for ISIL.
“This announcement is also meant to show that Omar is alive and well and still in control as the supreme leader of the Taliban.”
In the past 13 years, Omar has stayed completely out of the public eye amid growing power struggles within the Taliban and fears of ISIL’s influence in their ranks as an ideological rival.
The Afghan government has also raised the ominous prospect of ISIL making inroads into the country, though the group that has taken over swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria has never formally acknowledged having a presence in Afghanistan.