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.”
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.