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Taliban founder Mullah Omar lived within walking distance of US bases in Afghanistan for years, according to a new book that suggests embarrassing failures of American intelligence.


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US and Afghan leaders believed the one-eyed, fugitive leader fled to and
eventually died in Pakistan, but a new biography says Omar was living just
three miles from a major US base in Zabul province, where he died in 2013.

The Afghan government has vehemently denied the claims in “Searching for
an Enemy”, by Dutch journalist Bette Dam, — but the Taliban, who are
currently in talks with Washington in Doha, told AFP the book’s claim that
Omar remained in Afghanistan is “true”.

Dam — who spent years reporting in Afghanistan and has also written a
book about former Afghan president Hamid Karzai — described the Taliban
chief as a virtual hermit, refusing visits from his family and filling
notebooks with jottings in an imaginary language.

She spent more than five years researching the book and interviewed Omar’s
bodyguard Jabbar Omari, who claimed to have hid and protected him after the
Taliban regime was overthrown.

Following the 9/11 attacks in 2001 which led to the fall of the Taliban,
the US put a $10 million bounty on Omar and he went into hiding in a small
compound in the regional capital Qalat, Dam wrote.

The family living at the compound were not told of the identity of their
mystery guest, but US forces almost found him twice.

At one point, a US patrol approached as Omar and Omari were in the
courtyard. Alarmed, the two men ducked behind a wood pile, but the soldiers
passed without entering.

A second time, US troops even searched the house but did not uncover the
concealed entrance to his secret room.

Omar decided to move when the US started building Forward Operating Base
Lagman in 2004, just a few hundred metres from his hideout.

He later moved to a second building but soon afterwards the Pentagon
constructed Forward Operating Base Wolverine — home to 1,000 US troops, and
where American and British special forces were sometimes based — close by.

He dared not move again, Dam says, rarely going outside and often hiding
in tunnels when US planes flew over.

Though he listened to the BBC’s evening Pashto-language news broadcasts,
even when Omar learned about the death of al-Qaeda supremo Osama Bin Laden he
rarely commented on the outside world, the book says.

It says he delegated Taliban leadership after 2001, acting more as a
spiritual leader to the group.

The book claims that Omar became ill in 2013 and refused to travel to
Pakistan for treatment, later dying in Zabul.

– ’Piles of evidence’ –

The Afghan government said it “strongly” rejected the “delusional” claim.

“(W)e see it as an effort to create and build an identify for the Taliban
and their foreign backers,” tweeted Haroon Chakhansuri, a spokesman for the
Afghan presidency.

“We have sufficient evidence which shows he lived and died in Pakistan.
Period!”

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

“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.

“I have piles & piles of evidence which shows he lived & died in
Pakistan,” tweeted Amrullah Saleh, who was head of Afghan intelligence from
2004-2010.

Afghan officials have repeatedly accused Pakistan of harbouring Taliban
insurgents.

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

“This is true,” militant spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told AFP.

“The late Mullah Sahib was in Zabul province all along, and there was an
American base nearby, the Americans did carry out a raid there, and he passed
away there.”

Omar’s Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 until 2001, and has waged an
insurgency since then.

The US and Taliban have remained tight-lipped about the most recent round
of talks in Doha, which have been ongoing for two weeks, sparking
expectations that they may be inching closer to a deal that could see
Washington exit the nearly 18-year conflict.

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