Mullah Omar Returns To Power In Afghanistan As Barack Obama Moves Closer To Retreat

Mullah Omar Returns To Power In Afghanistan As Barack Obama Moves Closer To Retreat

October 11th, 2009 Posted By Pat Dollard.


New York Times:

WASHINGTON — 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.”

American officials are weighing the significance of this comeback: Is Mullah Omar the brains behind shrewd shifts of Taliban tactics and propaganda in recent years, or does he have help from Pakistani intelligence? Might the Taliban be amenable to negotiations, as Mullah Omar hinted in a Sept. 19 statement, or can his network be divided and weakened in some other way? Or is the Taliban’s total defeat required to ensure that Afghanistan will never again become a haven for Al Qaeda?

The man at the center of the American policy conundrum remains a mystery, the subject of adoring mythmaking by his followers and guesswork by the world’s intelligence agencies. He was born, by various accounts, in 1950 or 1959 or 1960 or 1962. He may be hiding near Quetta, Pakistan, or hunkered down in an Afghan village. No one is sure.

“He can’t operate openly; there are too many people looking for him,” and the eye he lost to Soviet shrapnel in the 1980s makes him recognizable, said Alex Strick van Linschoten, a Dutch-born writer who lives in Kandahar, where Mullah Omar’s movement was born, and who has helped a former Taliban official write a memoir.

“There are four or five people who can pass messages to Omar,” Mr. Strick van Linschoten said. “And then there’s a circle of people who can get access to those four or five people.”

Rahimullah Yusufzai, of The News International, a Pakistani newspaper, who interviewed Mullah Omar a dozen times before 2001, called him “a man of few words and not very knowledgeable about international affairs.” But his reputed humility, his legend as a ferocious fighter against Soviet invaders in the 1980s, and his success in ending the lawlessness and bloody warlords’ feuds of the early 1990s cemented his power.

“His followers adore him, believe in him and are willing to die for him,” Mr. Yusufzai said. While even Taliban officials rarely see him, Mullah Omar “remains an inspiration, sending out letters and audiotapes to his commanders and fighters,” the journalist said.

A recent assessment by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top American commander in Afghanistan, identified the Taliban as the most important part of the insurgency, coordinating “loosely” with groups led by two prominent warlords. He concluded that “the insurgents currently have the initiative” and “the overall situation is deteriorating.”

The statement from Mullah Omar, one of a series issued in his name on each of the two annual Id holidays, offered a remarkably similar analysis. He, or his ghostwriter, praised the success of “the gallant mujahedeen” in countering the “sophisticated and cutting-edge technology” of the enemy, saying the Taliban movement “is approaching the edge of victory.”

For a recluse, he showed a keen awareness of Western public opinion, touching on the history that haunts foreign armies in Afghanistan (“We fought against the British invaders for 80 years”), denouncing fraud in the recent presidential election and asking of the American-led forces, “Have they achieved anything in the past eight years?”

American military and intelligence analysts say the Taliban have definitely achieved some things. They describe today’s Afghan Taliban as a franchise operation, a decentralized network of fighters with varying motivations, united by hostility to the Afghan government and foreign forces and by loyalty to Mullah Omar.

The Taliban have deployed fighters in small guerrilla units and stepped up the use of suicide bombings and improvised explosive devices. The movement has expanded military operations from the Taliban’s southern stronghold into the north and west of the country, forcing NATO to spread its troops more thinly.

Day-to-day decisions are made by Mullah Omar’s deputies, in particular Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a skilled, pragmatic commander, who runs many meetings with Taliban commanders and “shadow governors” appointed in much of the country, analysts say.

Mullah Omar heads the Taliban’s Rahbari Shura, or leadership council, often called the Quetta Shura since it relocated to the Pakistani city in 2002. The shura, consisting of the Taliban commanders, “operates like the politburo of a communist party,” setting broad strategy, said Mr. Yusufzai, the Pakistani journalist. General McChrystal wrote in his assessment that the shura “conducts a formal campaign review each winter, after which Mullah Omar announces his guidance and intent for the coming year.”

Thomas E. Gouttierre, director of the Center for Afghanistan Studies at the University of Nebraska, Omaha, said that “as a symbolic figure, Omar is a centrifugal force for the Taliban,” playing a similar role to that of Osama bin Laden in Al Qaeda. But Dr. Gouttierre credits the Taliban’s success not to any military genius on the part of Mullah Omar but to more worldly advisers from Pakistan’s intelligence service and Al Qaeda.

Western and Afghan sources agree on the bare outline of Mullah Omar’s biography: He was born in a village, had limited religious schooling, fought with the mujahedeen against the Soviet Army and helped form the Taliban in 1994. Some accounts say he is married and has two sons.

His emergence as the leader of the puritanical students who later fought their way to the capital, Kabul, may have resulted from his very obscurity, some experts say. He was not a flamboyant warlord with allies and enemies, a likely plus for the Taliban’s sponsors in Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate. “He had an unaligned quality that made him useful,” Mr. Strick van Linschoten said.

In jihadist accounts, his story has the feeling of legend: “At the height of his youth, he stepped forward against the disbelievers and terrorized their ranks,” says an undated 10-page biography from an Islamist information agency, which also describes how he once refused cream and other delicacies, preferring “a bowl of plain soup with some hard, stale bread.”

Taliban folklore tells of his bravery in the 1980s in removing his own injured eye and fighting on; of his dream in the mid-1990s in which the Prophet Muhammad told him he would bring peace to Afghanistan; and of how in 1996, he donned a cloak reputed to have belonged to the prophet and took the title “commander of the faithful.”

That was the year that Mr. bin Laden moved his base to Afghanistan. Ever since, the central question about Mullah Omar for American officials has been his relationship with Al Qaeda.

In 1998, two days after American cruise missiles hit a Qaeda training camp in an unsuccessful attempt to kill Mr. bin Laden, Mullah Omar telephoned an astonished State Department official, Michael E. Malinowski, who took the call on his porch at 2:30 a.m. Mullah Omar demanded proof that the Qaeda leader was involved in terrorism, according to declassified records. (Mullah Omar also suggested that to improve American relations with Muslim countries, President Bill Clinton should step down.)

Mr. bin Laden courted the Taliban leader, vowing allegiance and calling the far less educated man a historic leader of Islam. A letter of advice from Mr. bin Laden to Mullah Omar on Oct. 3, 2001, found on a Qaeda computer obtained by The Wall Street Journal, heaped on the praise (“I would like to emphasize how much we appreciate the fact that you are our emir”).

Despite intense pressure from the United States and its allies to turn over Mr. bin Laden, Mullah Omar declined, and paid a steep price when the Taliban fell.

Richard Barrett, a former British intelligence officer now monitoring Al Qaeda and the Taliban for the United Nations, argues that Mullah Omar has learned the lesson of 2001. If the Taliban regain power, he said, “they don’t want Al Qaeda hanging around.”

He added, “They want to be able to say, ‘We are a responsible government.’ ”

Indeed, in his Sept. 19 statement, Mullah Omar made such an assertion: “We assure all countries that the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, as a responsible force, will not extend its hand to cause jeopardy to others.”

Mr. Riedel, who helped devise the Afghanistan strategy now being rethought, scoffs at such pronouncements as “clever propaganda.”

“We’ve been trying for 13 years to get the Taliban to break with Al Qaeda and turn over bin Laden, and they haven’t done it,” Mr. Riedel said. “Whatever the bond is between them, it’s stood the test of time.”

A Closer Look At Obama’s Odyssey

A Closer Look At Obama’s Odyssey

By Jack Cashill

On January 18, 2009, Michiko Kakutani, the New York Times Pulitzer Prize-winning literary critic, described the structure of Barack Obama’s 1995 memoir, Dreams From My Father, as “a quest in which [Obama] cast himself as both a Telemachus in search of his father and an Odysseus in search of a home.”


Three weeks earlier, I had argued on these pages (“The Improvised Odyssey of Barack Obama,” December 28, 2008) that in Dreams Obama “assumes the role of both Telemachus and Odysseus, the son seeking the father, and the father seeking home.”  Although I could find no prior reference to this specific Homeric interpretation, I seriously doubt if Ms. Kakutani purloined my thesis, especially given her conclusion that Dreams was “the most evocative, lyrical and candid autobiography written by a future president.”  She apparently inferred the Homeric structure in reading the text, as did I.


Thanks to Christopher Andersen’s new book, Barack and Michelle: Portrait of an American Marriage, it has become increasingly clear that Obama friend and neighbor, Bill Ayers, gave the book its structure.  As Andersen relates, after four futile years of trying to finish the contracted book, a “hopelessly blocked” Obama delivered his family’s “oral histories, along with his partial manuscript and a trunkload of notes” to Ayers for a major overhaul.


We know that Ayers is keen on the classics. Early in his own 2001 memoir, Fugitive Days, he tips his Homeric hand. “Memory sails out upon a murky sea-wine-dark, opaque, unfathomable,” he writes with a knowing wink. “Wine-dark sea” is trademark Homer.  Ayers seems to have had fun with the project.


As I argued in my original piece on this subject, the incidents in the book that support the Homeric framework — among them green-eyed seductresses, blind seers, lotus-eaters, the “ghosts” of the underworld, whirlpools, a half dozen sundry “demons,” and even a menacing one-eyed bald man — seem contrived, if not fully fictitious.  In interviewing some 200 people for his book, Andersen lends support to this contention.  Three particular incidents stand out.


In Dreams, Obama finds himself attracted to “the beauty, the filth, the noise, and the excess” of New York City. There was no denying “the city’s allure,” he writes, nor “its consequent power to corrupt.” New York, I had argued, was “Obama’s monstrous rock-based Scylla, the notorious devourer of men.” 


For the would-be community organizer, the chief source of corruption was the lure of capitalism.  “I had my own office, my own secretary, money in the bank,” writes Obama of his position as a financial writer “behind enemy lines” in corporate America.


“Sometimes, coming out of an interview with Japanese financiers or German bond traders, I would catch my reflection in the elevator doors-see myself in a suit and tie, a briefcase in my hand — and for a split second I would imagine myself as a captain of industry.”


Having interviewed Obama’s co-workers, Andersen is forced to conclude that Obama had no office of his own, no secretary, no jacket and tie, and no German or Japanese financiers to interview.  “It was a bit like a sweatshop,” one of Obama’s colleagues noted.  “Barack never wore a tie, much less a suit.  Nobody did.”  Nor was he the only black man in the office as he writes elsewhere in this section.  A newsletter writer, Obama was in no danger of becoming a captain of industry no matter how long he worked there.


From this and other incidents throughout the book, one senses that Ayers felt free to improvise on the basic details of Obama’s life.  In his 2001 memoir, Fugitive Days, he too reports thinking of himself and his colleagues as “behind enemy lines” in capitalist America.  Capitalism is not something to which Ayers has ever warmed up.  In 2006, for instance, he declared in a Venezuelan speech, “Capitalism promotes racism and militarism — turning people into consumers, not citizens.”  By puffing up Obama’s resume, Ayers makes the seduction of capitalism and Obama’s resistance to it seem all the more noble.  There is nothing Homeric in walking away from a sweatshop.


It is in New York too that Obama meets his Circe, still another subplot that Andersen’s reporting undermines. “She was white. She had dark hair, and specks of green in her eyes. Her voice sounded like a wind chime,” Obama later tells his half-sister Auma in Dreams. “We saw each other for almost a year.” Obama, however, came to see that he and the girl lived in “two worlds.” He sensed that “if we stayed together I’d eventually live in hers.” And so he pushes her away.


Odysseus too shared the temptress Circe’s bed for a year. Like Obama’s unnamed girlfriend, Circe lived in a “splendid house” on “spacious grounds.” She likewise wanted her lover to stay forever, but Odysseus’s mates warned him off, “You god-driven man, now the time has come to think about your native land once more, if you are fated to be saved and reach your high-roofed home and your own country.” (Ian Johnston translation)


If Obama’s friend nicely fills the Circe role, she is surely grounded in the real life person of Diana Oughton, Ayers’s lover who was killed in a 1970 bomb blast. As her FBI files attest, Oughton had brown hair and green eyes. Oughton and Obama’s alleged lover shared similar family backgrounds as well. In fact, as I have previously reported, they seemed to have grown up on the very same estate, right down to the ancestral home, the encircling trees and small lake in the middle.


As Andersen reports, however, “No one, including [Obama’s] roommate and closest friend at the time, Siddiqi, knew of this mysterious lover’s existence.” Obama’s mother and sister never met her either although they visited Obama in New York during this time period.  Again, it seems as if Ayers imagined a seductress worthy of a Homeric hero and inserted her into the flow of Obama’s otherwise unremarkable life.  Doing so also allowed him to editorialize on issues racial just as the corporate job enabled him to opine on things capitalistic.


Even more contrived, though hard to prove, was Obama’s alleged confrontation with his own private Cyclops. As reported in Dreams, an Iranian student sitting across from Obama at the library, described as an “older balding man with a glass eye” and a “menacing look,” chides him and a black friend about the failure of American slaves to rebel in any meaningful way.


Obama’s friend falls strangely mute before the attack, but Obama rips into the Iranian. “Was the collaboration of some slaves any different than the silence of some Iranians who stood by and did nothing as Savak thugs murdered and tortured opponents of the Shah?” he asks.


There are several problems with this scenario.  For one, it takes place in the spring of 1981, just months after the release of 52 American hostages from 444 days of captivity in the newly Islamic Iran.   At this time, only the hardest of the hard left were still focusing their anti-Iranian wrath on the Shah and Savak. 


For another, it seems improbable that a political naif who seemed, in Andersen’s words, “congenitally incapable of losing his temper” or of saying anything “that might be construed as rude or inappropriate,” would launch such a sophisticated rant against an otherwise innocent third-worlder.  It seems more likely an opportunity for Ayers to firm up the Homeric structure of Dreams and settle an old grudge against the America-friendly Shah.


Then or now, Ayers has little good to say about America. In his 2001 memoir, Fugitive Days, for instance, he uses the Cyclops as metaphor for the “doomed and helpless” United States.  “Picture an oversized, somewhat dim-witted monster, greedy and capricious,” Ayers writes in his uniquely patriotic way, “its eyes put out by fiery stakes and now flailing in a blind rage, smashing its way through villages and over mountains.”


Yet only in America could an America-hating terrorist conspire with an unskilled writer of uncertain origins on an untruthful memoir and succeed in getting the man elected president.  This plot is so absolutely rich, so thoroughly cinematic, that the literary gatekeepers refuse to believe it is true. 


Sorry to disillusion you.

Page Printed from: at October 11, 2009 – 03:18:51 PM EDT

Nuclear engineer from Cern lab arrested for al-Qaeda links

Nuclear engineer from Cern lab arrested for al-Qaeda links

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The Cern lab is best known for its Hadron Collider

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Fears that al-Qaeda is planning an attack on the nuclear industry in Europe were renewed yesterday after French secret agents arrested a physicist working at an atomic research centre.

The 32-year-old man, who was detained with his brother, 25, is suspected of providing a list of terrorist targets to North African Islamic radicals. He worked for the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva, Switzerland, according to French police sources.

Agents were said to have intercepted messages in which the physicist, a Frenchman of Algerian origin, had suggested targets in France.

He is believed to have been in contact with members of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, an Algerian-based terror organisation that joined Osama bin Laden’s network in 2007.

“He had expressed a wish or a desire to commit terrorist actions but had not materially prepared them,” an intelligence source said.

After he was identified, during an investigation into a French network that had sent Islamic radicals to Afghanistan, the man was put under surveillance for about 18 months. Last month Judge Christophe Teissier, an investigating magistrate specialising in terrorism, opened a formal inquiry into his activities.

The brothers apparently came to the attention of the secret services when agents monitored the internet as part of the inquiry into the recruitment of extremists to fight in Afghanistan. Several exchanges were recorded between the brothers and suspected al-Qaeda contacts.

The pair were arrested by the Central Directorate of Interior Intelligence (DCRI) at their home in Vienne, eastern France. Police seized two computers, three hard discs and two USB keys.

The men were taken for questioning at the directorate’s headquarters in Levallois-Perret, outside Paris. “Perhaps we have avoided the worst possible scenario,” Brice Hortefeux, the French Interior Minister, said. “We are in a situation of permanent vigilance and we follow the declarations of the leaders of certain organisations day by day. Our vigilance is never lowered. The risk is permanent.”

CERN, the leading European laboratory for the study of sub-atomic physics, said that the suspect had never been in contact with any elements that could be used for terrorist purposes.

The man who was arrested worked on analysis concerning the Large Hadron Collider but was not an employee of CERN and “performed his research under a contract with an outside institute”. None of his research had a potential military application, the organisation added.

In its previous incarnation as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb fought the Algerian authorities in an attempt to install an Islamic state at the cost of tens of thousands of lives in the 1990s.

Since joining al-Qaeda it has spread its activities to countries such as Mali, Niger and Mauritania. In June it claimed responsibility for the killing of Christopher Leggett, an American humanitarian worker, in Mauritania.