The concealed the “depressing news” of the death of its former leader Mullah Omar for more than two years because the movement was in the final stages of its fight against US-led forces, a detailed biography of the group’s new chief has revealed.
Until the , the death of the Taliban’s founder on 23 April 2013 was kept a secret “limited to the very few colleagues who were informed of this incorrigible loss”, according to the long statement published on the movement’s website on Monday.
The scheduled end of the Nato combat mission in 2014 meant the Taliban had no choice but to cover up the death of a leader whose legendary status and claim to be the “commander of the faithful” was critical to holding together Islamist fighters during the onslaught from foreign forces.
“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 mujahideen and foreign invaders,” said the statement, which was published in several languages including English.
The 4,500-word biography appeared designed to shore up the position of Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, the man whose succession as leader of the Taliban has faced a heavy challenge from within the ranks, including from Omar’s family, who have refused to back him.
The revelation of Omar’s death not only caused turmoil inside the movement but also threw prospects of further peace talks with the Afghan government into doubt after scheduled talks between the two sides in Pakistan were cancelled.
In an effort to build support for the new leader, Mansoor is portrayed as a man of simple tastes whose battlefield experience began in his mid-teens when he abandoned his religious studies to join the jihad against the Soviet Union’s occupation of in the 1980s.
Supposedly adept at shooting, “he particularly loves and has interest in marksmanship”, the biography states.
He was injured “with 13 wounds in his body” during an assault on a Russian military post in the southern province of Kandahar in 1987 and only stopped fighting after the collapse of the Soviet-backed communist government in 1992.
But he played a key role in the formation of the Taliban in 1994 and was put in charge of Kandahar airport before being appointed minister of aviation and tourism when the capital fell in 1996.
After the US-led invasion of 2001 he was put in charge of insurgent activities in the south and made deputy head of the movement in 2007.
Although the biography is at pains to claim that his formal elevation to leader of the Taliban last month was supported by senior members of the movement, analysts say his position is still far from secure.
Michael Semple, a veteran observer of the Taliban, said the succession battle was only just beginning. He said there was no evidence that Mansoor was either “pro-peace” or particularly close to Pakistan’s intelligence establishment, which some have hoped will use its influence to steer the insurgency towards the negotiating table.