Documents Show U.S. Officials Worried Mullah Omar Was Growing Closer to Bin Laden in 1998

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Three years before al Qaeda's attacks on the United States on 9/11, U.S. officials detected an alarming shift in the ideological stance of Taliban leader Mullah Omar toward pan-Islamism – a change that portended a burgeoning alliance between the Afghan regime and Osama bin Laden. The report that Omar might be falling under bin Laden's "influence" is contained in a December 1998 U.S. Embassy cable from Islamabad, Pakistan, one of a number of recently declassified government documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the National Security Archive and published here today on the eighth anniversary of the Taliban's expulsion from Kabul.

The new documents provide other revealing insights into the inner workings of the notoriously opaque Taliban which underscore the challenges and potential opportunities that continue to confront U.S. policy-makers today. For example, while the organization in the late 1990s showed a troubling inclination toward radical Islamic thinking on issues beyond its usually more parochial concerns, it also displayed a pragmatic and even opportunistic side, recruiting troops from a variety of political perspectives including local communists. And although the documents describe Mullah Omar as highly authoritarian and adept at keeping his political rivals off-balance, the organization had evidenced a surprising diversity of viewpoints within its upper ranks, which suggested possible weak spots in the organization's control.

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