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Reclusive Taliban leader Mullah Omar re-asserts command

June 22, 2009 15:03 IST

Reclusive Taliban leader Mullah Omar has reemerged to reassert direct control over the militant group, ordering attacks and shuffling field commanders in Afghanistan, as his group faces an offensive from the US troops and Pakistani military in Waziristan.

A spate of suicide strikes against high-value targets like Ahmed Wali Karzai, brother of President Hamid Karzai, and Qari Saeed Ahmed, a moderate cleric of Kandahar, had been masterminded and carried out on instructions directly from Mullah Omar, Wall Street Journal reported quoting unnamed insurgents sources and the US officials.It may be his (Omar) signature tune to signal he is back in active action, the US officials said.

The paper said this represents a change in strategy by Taliban because till recently the group's war against US-led coalition had been left to local commanders. One-eyed Mullah Omar, who heads the 'Quetta Shura' (the Taliban war council named after the place in Pakistan where it was set up) had so far after the ouster of his regime in Kabul in 2001 typically focused on choosing Taliban commanders and funneling money to them, religious guidance and strategy advice to fighters.

Under his instructions, Taliban also struck a big blow against US forces when they attacked its Khost headquarterswhich left 12 dead.

"His re-emergence is Quetta's answer to Obama's surge," said a senior commander of Afghan-warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who now fights under the Taliban umbrella. However, the paper said before 2001, Taliban was highly centralised but it quickly fragmented under pressure from the US-led forces with largely independent factions coping up and fighting piecemeal actions against American forces and Pakistani troops in NWFP.

Estimates of the number of Taliban vary, the paper said, adding they are believed to be tens of thousands. It said that Omar's reemergence could lead to Taliban becoming a centralised, coordinated and a violent force. But, Omar's domineering presence has irked some rank and file of the Taliban, potentially leaving them more amenable to the US and Afghan outreach.

The Wall Street Journal said large elements of the Taliban remain independent of Quetta Shura and most of them Pakistani Taliban. It said the powerful Afghan insurgent network of Jalaluddin Haqqani and his son Sirajjuddin, though pledging loyalty to Omar, operated on their own. Hekmatyar, who fought Taliban in 1990s, is also a loose ally. But, unmindful of these dissensions, the paper said, Taliban commanders were stocking up in eastern and southern Afghanistan, hiring additional fighters and appointing new commanders to face the upcoming offensive by the US forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan army in the NWFP.

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