On July 29, Afghanistan’s secret services have confirmed that Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar has been dead for two or three years in a Pakistani hospital, although this has not been confirmed by the Taliban.
Mullah Omar was a reclusive figure even before his Taliban government was driven from power in late 2001 and he was forced into hiding – very few images of him exist.
There have been several reports in the past that Mullah Omar had died.
A statement purporting to be from Mullah Omar was released in July backing peace talks with the Afghan government. The last audio message thought to be from him appeared in 2006 but even this was leaked and not meant for public consumption.
In April 2015, the Taliban published a biography of Mullah Omar, saying he was alive and still supreme leader of the movement, as he had been since 1996.
Taliban say Mullah Omar was born in 1960 in the village of Chah-i-Himmat, in Kandahar province.
He fought in resistance against Soviet occupation in 1980s, suffering a shrapnel injury to his right eye.
He also forged close ties to al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden.
Mullah Omar became “supreme leader” of Taliban movement in 1996.
US-led forces overthrew his government in 2001; US state department has a $10 million bounty on him.
The biography says he does not own a home and has no foreign bank account, and saying he “has a special sense of humor”
The Afghan Taliban have published a surprise biography of the reclusive Mullah Mohammed Omar, to mark his 19th year as their supreme leader.
The 5,000-word biography on their main website clarifies disputed facts about his birth and upbringing.
It lists his favorite weapon – the RPG 7 – and says he leads a simple life and has a “special” sense of humor.
It says Mullah Omar, whose whereabouts were unknown, “remains in touch” with day-to-day Afghan and world events.
The US state department has a $10 million bounty on Mullah Omar, who has not been seen since the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
It was Mullah Omar’s backing for al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden that sparked the campaign.
It is unclear why the Taliban have chosen the 19th anniversary of his supreme leadership to publish the biography but some analysts say it may be an attempt to counter the growing influence of Islamic State in Afghanistan.
Commentators and Taliban watchers have been unable to agree on many facts about Mullah Omar, including his birth and heritage.
The biography says he was born in 1960 in the village of Chah-i-Himmat, in the Khakrez district of Kandahar province, in the south of the country.
It refers to the supreme leader as Mullah Mohammad Umar “Mujahid” and says he is from the Tomzi clan of the Hotak tribe.
It says his father was Moulavi Ghulam Nabi, a “respected erudite and social figure” who died five years after Mohammed Omar’s birth. The family moved to Uruzgan province.
The biography says Mullah Omar abandoned his studies in a madrassa school after the Soviet forces invaded Afghanistan and became a jihadist “to discharge his religious obligation”.
It lists his military feats fighting the Russians between 1983 and 1991, saying he was wounded four times and lost his right eye.
In 1994, Mullah Omar took over leading the Islamic mujahideen to tackle the “factional fighting” among warlords that followed the collapse of the communist regime in 1992.
Then in 1996 he was conferred the title “ameer-ul-momineen” (head of the pious believers), the biography says, becoming supreme leader.
After taking Kabul and establishing the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the biography tells of the “arrogant infidel powers of the world” who “could not tolerate Sharia law” and launched a joint military invasion.
In a section on his “charismatic personality”, the biography says Mullah Omar is tranquil and does not lose either temper or courage, does not own a home and has no foreign bank account and is affable, has a special sense of humor and never considers himself superior to his colleagues.
In a section entitled His daily activities in the present circumstances, the biography says: “In the present crucial conditions and regularly being tracked by the enemy, no major change and disruption has been observed in the routine works of [Mullah Omar].”
It says he “keenly follows and inspects the jihadi activities against the brutal infidel foreign invaders” adding: “He remains in touch with the day-to-day happenings of his country as well as the outside world.”
Pakistani Taliban leader Adnan Rasheed has sent a letter to schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai, expressing shock that she was shot by Taliban gunmen last year.
The Taliban was universally condemned after gunmen shot Malala Yousafzai in the head.
In his letter to Malala, Adnan Rasheed stops short of apologising but says he wished the attack “had never happened”.
He also claims the shooting was not in response to Malala Yousafzai’s campaign for girls’ education, but because she ran an anti-Taliban “smear campaign”.
Malala Yousafzai – who is considered a contender for the Nobel Peace Prize – is credited with bringing the education issue to global attention.
Speaking at UN headquarters in New York last Friday, she said that books and pens scared extremists. She also urged education for all, including “for the sons and daughters of the Taliban and all the terrorists”.
Correspondents say Adnan Rasheed’s letter was an apparent attempt to attract media attention with a view to counter the impact of Malala Yousafzai’s speech at the UN.
A copy of the letter was obtained by Channel 4 News and other news organizations.
Pakistani Taliban leader Adnan Rasheed has sent a letter to schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai, expressing shock that she was shot by Taliban gunmen last year
Writing in his “personal capacity”, Adnan Rasheed said he felt “brotherly” emotions towards Malala because they belong to the “same Yousufzai tribe”.
However, he refuses to condemn the attack, saying the judgement on whether it was correct or not should be left to God.
Adnan Rasheed says he first heard of Malala Yousafzai’s work when he was in prison, when the BBC Urdu service broadcast a diary that she wrote.
He says he wished he had been able to “advise” her before the attack, which he describes as an “accident”.
The Taliban leader also says that his group is not “against education of any men or women or girls”. Instead he claims Malala Yousafzai was targeted because she campaigned to “malign [the Taliban’s] efforts to establish the Islamic system”.
“You have said in your speech that the pen is mightier than the sword, so they attacked you for your sword, not for your books or school,” he writes.
Adnan Rasheed finishes by telling Malala Yousafzai to “come back home, adopt the Islamic and Pashtun culture and join any female Islamic madrassa [school], use your pen… and reveal the conspiracy of the tiny elite who want to enslave the whole of humanity”.
Malala Yousafzai’s family said in a statement that they were aware of the letter but had not received it directly and had no wish to comment on it.
After the shooting, Malala Yousafzai was flown from Pakistan to the UK for treatment, and now lives in Birmingham, England.
Her speech on her 16th birthday at UN headquarters in New York was her first public address since last October’s attack.
Malala Yousafzai said she was fighting for the rights of women because “they are the ones who suffer the most”.
A quarter of young women around the world have not completed primary school.
NATO announces that it is restricting operations with Afghan troops following a string of deadly attacks on its personnel by rogue Afghan security forces.
Only large operations will now be conducted jointly, with joint patrols evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
ISAF said these were “prudent, but temporary, measures to reduce our profile and vulnerability”.
NATO commanders have been frustrated that the Afghans have not done more to stem the rise in attacks, analysts say.
The moves came as a suicide bomber targeted a bus carrying foreigners in the capital, killing 12 people on Tuesday morning.
The attack happened on a major road leading to the international airport and reports suggest those on board worked at the airport.
Afghan insurgent group Hezb-e-Islami has claimed it carried out the attack, which it says was in response to a recent anti-Islam video.
NATO announces that it is restricting operations with Afghan troops following a string of deadly attacks on its personnel by rogue Afghan security forces
Meanwhile NATO-led ISAF forces said they had arrested a Taliban leader and two insurgents they said were involved in an attack on the sprawling Camp Bastion in southern Helmand province.
They said the leader was suspected of “providing support” to the militants who staged the audacious assault, killing two US marines and destroying six Harrier fighter jets.
The joint command of NATO-led ISAF international forces cited “events outside of and inside Afghanistan” related to the film as part of the reason for its restrictions on joint operations.
Afghanistan has seen days of protests over the video, some violent.
Those, along with the surge in so-called “green-on-blue” attacks, had prompted the new restrictions, ISAF said.
Fifty-one NATO troops have been killed by Afghan soldiers so far this year – 15 in August alone. In 2008, just two soldiers died in such attacks – though ISAF and Afghan force numbers have also increased substantially in the period.
Four US soldiers and two UK soldiers died in rogue attacks at the weekend. A fifth of UK soldiers killed this year in Afghanistan were killed not by insurgents, but by Afghan soldiers or police.
Joint operations will now only be conducted routinely at battalion level – large operations involving several hundred troops.
“This does not mean there will be no partnering below that level; the need for that will be evaluated on a case by case basis” but it will have to be approved by a two-star general, ISAF said in a statement.
It stressed the changes were temporary.
“In some local instances, operational tempo has been reduced, or force protection has been increased. These actions balance the tension of the recent video with force protection, while maintaining the momentum of the campaign,” ISAF said.
It insisted it remained “absolutely committed to partnering with, training, advising and assisting our ANSF [Afghan National Security Forces] counterparts”.
In a news conference, US Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta told reporters he was concerned about the effect of insider attacks.
But he insisted they did not mean the Taliban was getting stronger or regaining lost territory.
He said the US would do all it could to minimize risks to its forces, but “we will not lose sight of the fundamental mission here, which is to continue to proceed to assure a peaceful transition to Afghan security and governance”.
In practical terms, US soldiers are already staying on their bases, while Afghans carry out patrols alone.
There has been enormous frustration among NATO commanders that Afghan officials have not been doing enough to prevent the rise in attacks, our correspondent says.
This shift is clearly aimed at sending a signal to the Afghan government that its measures for vetting new entrants to the Afghan army and police force must improve, they say.
But with 7,000 new recruits a month joining the Afghan army alone, it is very challenging to ensure Taliban militants do not slip through the net.
The Afghan ministry of defence said it had not been formally notified of the changes until a hurriedly convened meeting with NATO on Tuesday.
NATO’s move comes after a week of protests triggered by the anti-Islam film, produced in the US, which has caused a storm of anger around the Muslim world.
On Monday, hundreds of protesters threw rocks and torched police vehicles in an angry protest against the film in Kabul.
The AFP news agency said hundreds more staged a new protest in the northern city of Kunduz on Tuesday.