Here's What the Taliban Wants You to Know About Their New Leader


The Taliban have published a biography of their newly appointed Amir al-Muminin (Commander of the Faithful), Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour. Mansour was appointed leader of the group after Afghan and U.S. authorities confirmed reports that Mullah Mohammad Omar, the group’s mythologized previous leader, had been dead for two years. The confirmation of Omar’s death seems like a turning point for the group, which risks fracturing around competing claims to Omar’s legacy. Beyond Mansour, a contingent of militants see Mullah Yacub, Omar’s son, as the legitimate leader of the Taliban.

The biography, almost as a casual afterthought, offers what is to date is the most complete rationalization by the Taliban of why the group’s top leadership kept Omar’s death a secret for two years. It acknowledges that Omar passed away on April 23, 2013, as reported by Afghan and U.S. intelligence earlier this summer. The biography offers the following justification:

Since 2013 was considered the last year of resistance and struggle for Mujahidin against the foreign invading crusaders therefore several key members of the supreme leading council of the Islamic Emirate and authentic religious scholars together decided on concealing the tragic news of passing away of His Excellency, late Amir-ul-Momineen Mullah Mohammad Umar Mujahid (may his soul rest in peace) and keep this secret limited to the very few colleagues who were already informed of this incorrigible loss. One of the main reasons behind this decision was due to the fact that 2013 was considered the final year of power testing between the Mujahidin and foreign invaders who in turn had announced that at the end of 2014, all military operations by foreign troops would be concluded.

Mansour’s new biography sheds some light on how the Taliban would like their new leader to be perceived, both by the outside world and its rank-and-file militants. The 5,000-word biography at times comes off as an attempt to mythologize Mansour. The biography detailed Masnour’s role during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, detailing his part in assisting “the Afghan Mujahid masses” in “Islamic resistance (Jihad)” against the invaders: “Mansur, who was now in his mid-teen years and had intended to complete his religious education left them unfinished and began waging armed Jihad in the middle years of the Russian occupation due his Jihadi passion,” the biography notes.

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Beyond emphasizing his jihadi credentials–a surefire requirement for any leader of the Taliban–the biography emphasizes Mansour’s theological and academic moorings, a necessary qualification for any true Amir al-Muminin, naturally. It catalogues Mansour’s life after 1987, when he was injured fighting the Soviets, noting that “He started living an ordinary life and began engaging in various educational and training activities.” The biography’s account of Mansour’s role in the Taliban government of the late 1990s details the various administrative and bureaucratic duties that were entrusted to him. Throughout the account, there’s a strong emphasis of Mansour’s closeness to Omar. The biography notes at several points that Omar “appointed” Mansour personally due to a certain degree of trust that existed between the two men.

It remains unclear if Mansour will ever manage to command the same sort of authority that Omar enjoyed over Taliban militants. In the weeks since Omar’s death was announced, we’ve seen factionalism threaten to splinter a movement that has for years now been defined by its lack of a centralized and hierarchical chain of command. It may take more than a detailed biography to reverse this trend.

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