May 13, 2007

Top Level Taliban Commander Reaches Room Temperature

The improbably named Mullah Dadullah, almost certainly the most important field commander in the Taliban, died while fighting NATO forces in Helmand. Coalition forces showed the body to reporters, who immediately recognized Dadullah's amputation and black beard:

Afghan government officials showed the body of Mullah Dadullah, the top operational commander for the Taliban insurgency, to reporters here Sunday morning, saying he had been killed in a joint operation of Afghan and coalition forces.

Mr. Dadullah, an amputee, was recognizable in part from his missing leg and black beard. He had been shot in the head and in the stomach.

He was one of the most wanted Taliban leaders, responsible for numerous assassinations, beheadings and terrorist campaigns, and was thought to be behind many of the suicide bombings that have killed or wounded hundreds of Afghans in the last year and a half.

He was seen as probably the most important operational commander, organizing groups of fighters, weapons supplies and finances across much of the south and southeast of Afghanistan.

Dadullah is the real deal among Taliban bad guys. He didn't act merely as a military commander, but as a terrorist-in-chief for Mullah Omar. Kandahar's governor described him as the "backbone of the Taliban", a man who had personally beheaded Afghan civilians who displeased him.

Der Spiegel noted his popularity amongst the jihadis and his value to the morale of Taliban fighters just ten weeks ago:

If Osama bin Laden likes being in the global spotlight, he's likely a bit depressed in his hideout these days. The leader of the al-Qaida terrorist organization hasn't made an appearance on the evening news for quite some time. What's more, the Taliban no longer need bin Laden as a figurehead. Western intelligence agencies warn that the Taliban now have "their own star" in their struggle against Western soldiers and the Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai. The new nightmare from the Hindu Kush Mountains is called Mullah Dadullah. He sports a pitch black beard, always wears a military jacket and these days, he is omnipresent in the media. ...

Western intelligence agencies believe the Taliban have used the winter to thoroughly tighten their organizational structure. Some Taliban commanders are even reporting that Taliban leader Mullah Omar -- who disappeared from the scene entirely for years -- is once again writing letters to his supporters, congratulating successful commanders and the parents of suicide bombers and reminding militants of their "Islamic duties" via audio recordings. For years, one-eyed Omar had disappeared without a trace -- likely afraid of being tracked down by the CIA.

But Mullah Omar seems to be feeling more secure these days -- as does Mullah Dadullah, who only recently outlined his vision for the coming months. Behaving almost like any normal politician, he invited al-Jazeera journalists to visit him in the mountains. His words were alarming despite being full of rhetoric and propaganda. Dadullah said he commands 6,000 men who have volunteered for suicide attacks, and that their offensive is "imminent." He added that some of his men are already set off on their mission, which he described as a "bloodbath for the occupiers." This week's symbolic attack on US Vice President Dick Cheney is reason to fear that Dadullah is issuing more than just empty threats.

At that time, I wrote that "the time to act has arrived," and apparently I was not alone in thinking that. The new American commander of the Helmand theater changed tactics, using gunships to chase down and kill every last Taliban jihadi when they attempted raids, It stopped the "spring offensive" before it had a chance to start and put Omar and Dadullah back on their heels. Now the Taliban has lost its most effective leader and so-called rock star, and the effect on the organization will likely be severe.

With the exception of finding Omar or killing him, it's the best news yet in the war against the Taliban.

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