Fugitive Taliban leader Mullah Omar 'lived close to US bases'

Pakistan       by Haider Ali | Published

The Taliban have endorsed new claims that their fugitive Taliban leader Mullah Omar spent his last years as a solitary recluse only walking distance from an American army base in southern Afghanistan.

According to the book, Omar listened to the BBC´s Pashto-language news broadcasts in the evenings, but even when he learned about the death of al Qaeda supremo Osama Bin Laden rarely commented on developments in the outside world.

It noted that the New York Times and Politico had also reported on speculations that Mullah Omar had died in Afghanistan.

Omar was replaced by his deputy Mullah Akhtar Mansour as the head of the Taliban.

Omar initially went into hiding after USA military forces expelled the Taliban from Afghanistan following the post-9/11 invasion of the country.

USA forces even searched his accommodation on one occasion, but failed to find Omar's hiding place, Dam told Reuters. Alarmed, the two men ducked behind a pile of wood, but the soldiers passed without entering the premises.

A second time, USA troops even searched the house but did not uncover the concealed entrance to his secret room. Omar moved yet again - this time to a hiding spot that was only a few miles away from another, smaller USA base.

He later moved to a second building less than 5km from another U.S. base, home to about 1000 troops. He rarely went outside and often hid in tunnels when United States planes flew over.

"We strongly reject this delusional claim & we see it as an effort to create & build an identify for the Taliban and their foreign backers".

Taliban leader 'lived near US bases'

Writer Bette Dam says in her Dutch-language book Searching for the Enemy that Omar - whose personality and presence always remained shrouded in mystery, particularly after the United States' invasion in Afghanistan - lived within walking distance of U.S. bases in Afghanistan for years.

Former CIA director and U.S. military commander in Afghanistan David Petraeus also appeared sceptical.

Omar, who delegated effective Taliban leadership after 2001, appears to have acted as more of a spiritual leader, and the militant movement kept his death in 2013 secret for two years.

"We had access, as needed, to anywhere inside Afghanistan, and I would be very surprised if Mullah Omar would have taken the risk that we could come calling some evening", said Petraeus according to the Wall Street Journal.

For their part, the Taliban - who at times have been criticised in Afghanistan for their alleged links to Pakistan - said the claim was accurate.

But through interviews with "previously inaccessible sources", including members of the Afghan government, the Afghan intelligence agency, the Taliban, and Omar's bodyguard, the Zomia Center discovered that he did not leave Afghanistan.

For its part, the USA has long accused Pakistan of harboring the Taliban, including its deadly Haqqani network, and has made foreign aid to the country contingent on a crackdown.

The latest account of Omar's life comes as the Taliban and U.S. are holding ongoing peace talks aimed at bringing an end to the almost 18-year conflict.

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