Taliban supreme leader Mullah Omar is reasserting direct control over the militant group, ordering attacks and shuffling field commanders in Afghanistan, The Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday.
Citing unnamed US officials and insurgents in Afghanistan, the newspaper said this represents a change in strategy because until recently, the conduct of the Taliban's war against the US-led coalition had been left to local commanders.
Omar, who heads a Taliban leadership council called the Quetta "shura," had been focusing on fundraising, religious guidance and strategic advice to fighters, according to the report.
But since the beginning of the year, Omar has ordered a spate of suicide bombings and assassinations in southern and eastern Afghanistan that presage a bloody phase to come in the Afghan war, the paper said.
One target was Ahmed Wali Karzai, the younger brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who survived a gun and rocket attack on his motorcade in eastern Afghanistan on May 18, The Journal said.
However, Qari Sayed Ahmad, a moderate cleric, was gunned down outside his home in Kandahar, in April.
A mid-level Taliban commander in southern Afghanistan said in a telephone interview that the assassination had been carried out on orders from one of Omar's lieutenants, the report noted.
In another unusual attack in mid-May, nearly a dozen suicide bombers struck targets in the provincial capital of Khost in eastern Afghanistan, leaving at least 12 dead, not including the bombers.
US officials say the attack was ordered by the Quetta shura, The Journal pointed out.
"This is Quetta's answer to Obama's surge," the paper quoted as saying a senior member of a militant network led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, an independent Afghan warlord who fights alongside the Taliban.
According to the Journal, he was referring to plans by the administration of US President Barack Obama to send an additional 21,000 troops to Afghanistan over the next few months.
The Quetta "are not ready to lay down their weapons," the warlord said in an interview in the Pakistani city of Peshawar.