“Even though we will keep attacking, we could lose more territorial influence and control in the north and south,” the former minister admits. He frankly wonders whether the Afghan guerrillas of today are capable of outfighting the numerically far superior and largely U.S.-trained ANA—particularly with Kabul’s forces continuing to enjoy support from overwhelming American firepower. “One big question is: can we expand our influence in areas where the ANA is taking over?” he says. Otherwise, more Afghans are likely to abandon the insurgency as a losing cause. “If the Afghan army can hold its ground, that would be a huge moral victory for the Kabul regime.”

The biggest worry is the Taliban’s lack of leadership at the top, the former minister says. “In terms of running the insurgency, most of our current military commanders are weaker and poorer than the old guard of Mullah Obaidullah, Mullah Dadullah, and Mullah Baradar,” he complains. (The notoriously bloodthirsty Dadullah was the Taliban’s top military commander at the time of his death in action in 2007; Barada r, formerly Mullah Omar’s righthand man, has been imprisoned by Pakistani authorities since early 2010; and Obaidullah, once the Taliban’s third in command, died in a Pakistani jail that same year.) “The new top guys’ abilities and prestige just don’t compare,” says the former minister. “Everyone misses Baradar.”

Even more than that, the insurgents miss Mullah Omar himself. They’ve had no verifiable communications from their Amir-ul-Momineen (Leader of the Faithful) since he disappeared into the Kandahar mountains on the back of Baradar’s motorcycle in late 2001. Now Omar’s loyal followers can only pray that 2013 will be the year he finally makes his presence known, resumes full leadership responsibility, rallies his forces, and begins issuing orders once again. “This is the right time for Mullah Omar to show up,” says the former minister. “It’s getting very late for us.” In fact, he warns, many Taliban are close to losing hope that Omar will ever come back. “But if he proves he’s alive and begins to lead, we will have a winning hand.”