NATO reads weakness in Taliban leader Mullah Omar's annual Eid statement

Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar denied reports of peace talks with the Afghanistan government, but military officials also saw signs of financial woes in his call for funding from the worldwide Muslim community.

Luc Gnago/Reuters
Muslims prepare for a prayer during Eid al-Adha at a mosque in Attiekoube, in the Ivorian capital Abidjan, on Nov. 16. Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar has issued his annual statement for the Muslim holiday, touching on many points that will likely be debated by international and Afghanistan leaders at the NATO summit in Lisbon starting Friday.

Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar has issued his annual statement for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, touching on many points that will likely be debated by international and Afghanistan leaders at the NATO summit in Lisbon starting Friday.

International intelligence officials have interpreted Mullah Omar’s latest remarks as further indication that the Taliban are struggling with financial woes and losing the propaganda war. Independent analysts, however, question the importance of his latest statement, seeing it as little more than the usual Taliban message.

The group's supreme leader has traditionally issued two statements a year – one on each of the two main Muslim holidays, Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. In the statement issued Monday on the group's website, Voice of Jihad, he repeated familiar refrains calling for a “war of attrition” against foreign forces and making derisive remarks about corruption within the Afghan government.

“[T]he rulers of the regime have been installed by others and they are not interested in the future and prosperity of the country. They are only hankering after filling their pockets with money and fleecing the masses,” he wrote, arguing that even the international community agrees with his assessment of the current government by citing a recent Transparency International report that ranked Afghanistan as the world's second most corrupt nation.

Taliban leaders have focused their rhetoric against the current Afghan government’s inefficiencies and sought to present the Taliban organization as a viable alternative government. Recognition of government corruption is nothing new however, as it has been cited as a problem by everyone from President Hamid Karzai to average Afghans.

Cracks in the Taliban?

Among officials with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), Mullah Omar's latest statement is seen to reveal a number of cracks and fissures within the Taliban organization.

“It seems to me that really you can see some glaring weaknesses that they’re trying to address,” says a senior ISAF intelligence official who asked not to be named. “They kind of almost play their hand a little on some of things that they’ve been struggling with.”

For example, by addressing the creation of local, ISAF, and Afghan government-backed militias in his statement, the senior intelligence official says Mullah Omar indirectly acknowledges that these organizations have added an additional layer of complication for Taliban military operations.

Mullah Omar also asked the international Muslim community – even those in Iraq and the Palestinian Territories – to send money. That, and mentions of mainstream media outlets acting as government propaganda machines, could be further signs that Taliban is having trouble both controlling the media message and maintaining funding sources.

Denies peace talks

He also denied reports of ongoing peace talks with the government, which have been widely speculated about in the local and Western press. President Karzai, in an interview over the weekend with the Washington Post, said that he believed that Mullah Omar was aware of his meetings in recent months with Taliban leaders.

Alex Strick van Linschoten, an independent Dutch researcher based in Kandahar, warns that reading too much into Mullah Omar’s remarks can prove problematic, as they often support a variety of conclusions.

For the last several years “Mullah Omar Eid statements have always been the place where the movement can most strongly say things,” says Mr. Linschoten. “These statements come out so rarely that Westerners try to read so much into them … sometimes where there isn’t a message to be found.”

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