The Secret Life Of Mullah Omar

Mullah Omar, 1978. Taliban Official Photo.

Mullah Omar, 1978. Taliban Official Photo.

Very little is known about Mullah Omar, the notorious supreme leader of the Taliban. Only a handful of photographs are believed to exist, and his biographical details have long been contested. Upon the fall of the Taliban government in 2001, he effectively vanished, becoming, after Osama bin Laden, one of the most wanted men in the world. The U.S. placed a ten million-dollar bounty on his head, but was unable to find him. In this exclusive, Bette Dam exposes the secret history of a Mullah Omar from that disappearance until his death — covered up by the Taliban — in 2013. For five years, with remarkable courage and tenacity, Dam traveled to insurgent-controlled Afghanistan, meeting with Omar's close associates, friends and relatives and interviewing dozens of Taliban leaders. She also interviewed dozens of Afghan and U.S. officials — who began to tell a very different story in private than they had in public. And, in December 2018, Dam gained unprecedented access to Mullah Omar's bodyguard — who, for twelve years, lived with the Taliban leader, and was one of his only conduits to the outside world. Dam is the first journalist to interview him. The story that emerges is astonishing, contradicting over a decade of analysis by the U.S. intelligence community, and almost everyone else. After 2001, Mullah Omar did indeed vanish — but he vanished to safe house just two miles from a major U.S. Forward Operating Base, housing thousands of soldiers. Dam's seminal work not only sets the history straight — it suggests a staggering U.S. intelligence failure. 

 
PDF

Public Health in Non-state Spaces

Since 2001, the number of civil wars across the globe has increased 30 percent, leading to a proliferation of ungoverned and semi-governed spaces — territory under the control of militias, insurgent groups, or other autonomous local actors. This poses an acute challenge to public health; one scholar noted that "75 percent of epidemics during the last three decades have occurred in countries where war, conflict, and prolonged political violence have crippled their capacity to respond, leaving their neighbors and the world vulnerable.” In particular, these areas are potential sources of pandemics and “superbugs.” But successful public health programs require strong state actors, international coordination, and systemic solutions. This study explores the issue of public health in non-state spaces, focusing attention particularly on the way in which basic health services become privatized during times of war, and the inherent weaknesses of relying on third-party actors (such as international NGOs) to implement public health programs. It offers a new framework to approach public health provision in non-state spaces, one that does not primarily depend on third-party actors and seeks to avoid the pitfalls of operating solely through the mechanisms of the international state system.

Abandoned Intravenous Drip, Mosul, 2018, Nick McDonell.

Democracy in the Streets

Manbij, Syria.

Manbij, Syria.

In July 2012, the Syrian regime withdrew from the northern city of Manbij. Overnight, a group of revolutionaries took power and attempted to run the city in what would become the most extensive democratic experiment in the entire country. The Manbij Revolutionary Council put forth a new vision of participatory democratic rule quite unlike Western representative democracy. Based on two years of research, this paper presents the never-before-told story of the rise and fall of Syria’s most thoroughgoing democratic experiment. After 40 years of dictatorship, the city bloomed with freedom of expression and assembly. Almost two dozen “assemblies”—incipient political parties—popped up, including organizations devoted to women’s rights, student unions, and agricultural cooperatives. Before the revolution, Manbij had one (state-run) newspaper, but under the Revolutionary Council’s rule, more than fifteen newspapers and magazines were in circulation. But from the beginning, the Revolutionary Council faced challenges—on the one hand, from Islamists because of its secular rule, and on the other, from poor and working class communities due to the Council’s promotion of laissez fare economic policies. The Islamists began waging a right-wing populist campaign against the Revolutionary Council, eventually creating the conditions under which ISIS was able to capture the city and overthrow revolutionary rule. The story of the Manbij Revolutionary Council is an extraordinarily hopeful one that shows the democratic and creative energy unleashed by the Syrian revolution, but also a cautionary tale of the utter inability of neoliberal politics to provide real solutions to the problems confronting the world today.