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Taliban founder lived short walk from US bases in Afghanistan: Book reveals

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
US army soldiers walk as a helicopter flies overhead at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Connelly in the Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar on August 12, 2015. (Photo by AFP)

A new book says the late Taliban leader and co-founder, Mullah Omar, had long been living within walking distance of American military bases in Afghanistan as US forces were desperately searching for him in neighboring Pakistan, suggesting a failure of US intelligence.

The book entitled, Searching for an Enemy, by Dutch journalist Bette Dam, reveals that the longtime Taliban leader once lived in a secret room inside a building just a few hundred meters from a major US base — Forward Operating Base Lagman — in his home province of Zabul.

He later moved to a second building just three miles from another US base, the Forward Operating Base Wolverine, home to some 1,000 US troops.

Omar dared not move again amid fears of getting caught and died of illness in his hideout in 2013, according to the book.

Washington had put a 10-million-dollar bounty on the head of Taliban’s one-eyed fugitive leader following the 9/11 attacks in 2001, accusing him of harboring al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

The US and its allies invaded Afghanistan that year under the pretext of “war on terror” and removed the Taliban from power. In the period between the invasion and Omar’s death in 2013, Washington and the CIA spy agency used to believe that Omar, like bin Laden, had been hiding out in neighboring Pakistan.

According to the biography, US troops even searched his accommodation on one occasion, but failed to find the concealed entrance to the room built in the corner angle of a residential building.

Mullah Omar “never stepped foot in Pakistan,” said the book. “The US, and almost everyone else, had it wrong,” and that “the Pentagon and the CIA knew little about Mullah Mohammad Omar.”

A grab from footage, secretly filmed by BBC in 1996, shows Taliban founder Mullah Omar.

It is said that Omar was using an old Nokia mobile phone, without a sim card, to record his voice and got his news from the BBC’s Pashto-language broadcasts in his hideout.

According to the book, despite claims by the militants that the Taliban was led by Omar, he had handed over the practical leadership of the group to his deputies after the fall of the Taliban. He ruled Afghanistan from 1996 until 2001.

Omar was not able to run the group from his hiding places, but, according to the account, he approved the establishment of an office in the Qatari capital, Doha, where the Taliban are currently engaged in negotiations with US representatives over ending the 17-year-old conflict in Afghanistan.

The book was published in Dutch last month, and a summary of some findings has been published in English by the newly launched Zomia think tank, which shared the report with the Guardian and the Wall Street Journal.

Dam’s book was published in Dutch last month and is set to be available in English shortly.

In this undated image released by the FBI, Taliban former leader Mullah Omar is seen in a wanted poster. (Photo via AP.)

The journalist spent five years researching and interviewing Taliban members for her book. She visited parts of the country controlled by militants and interviewed both Afghan officials and some of the most senior surviving Taliban members.

The journalist said she also managed to speak to Omar’s bodyguard Jabbar Omari, who had protected the former leader since he went into hiding after the ousting of the Taliban regime in 2001 until his death from illness in 2013.

According to the account, Omari buried the former leader at the night of his death on April 23, 2013. He also captured a video of the burial for Omar’s son Yaqub and half-brother Abdul Manan.

The two, who had not visited Omar since his hiding in his hometown, traveled to his hideout after his death. Two years later, The Taliban broke the news of his death to the militants and the world.

Allegations draw reactions

 The Afghan government was quick to deny the claims.

“We strongly reject this delusional claim and we 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 skeptical, saying the Taliban leader’s alleged decision to stay in Afghanistan would have been laden with risk.

“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 Petraeu, according to the Wall Street Journal.

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

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